Marine conservation coalitions have made a stand against the feeding of whale sharks in waters off Lila as a tourist attraction, calling for government agencies to enforce the prohibition of the practice.
Save Sharks Network Philippines (SSNP), in a statement posted by environmental group Greenpeace on its website, condemned the feeding of whale sharks for economic purposes which it said is “a clear form of exploitation and harms ecological balance in Bohol.”
Free the Whale Sharks Coalition – Bohol which called the practice an “ecological trap” meanwhile launched an online petition to suspend operations of the whale shark interaction pending community consultations and the issuance of permits.
The petition currently has over 3,000 signatories, while the campaign continued to draw attention following the posting of multiple videos through social media showing tourists being allowed to go near the whale sharks and feed them.
Bureau of Fisheries and Resources (BFAR) officer-in-charge Candido Sumijon on Wednesday told the Chronicle that they have already reported the matter to their regional office which they expect would issue a directive on what measures to take.
“Naay nadawat namo na copy-furnished [letter] gikan sa concerned group pero akong gi-forward sa Cebu para makakuha ta og unsa g’yud ang stand sa atoang regional office,” Sumijon said.
Joint Administrative Order (JAO) No. 1 series of 2004 by the Department of Tourism and Department of Agriculture prohibits vessels from going near whales as they should maintain a 100-meter distance from the ocean mammal.
The JAO also prohibits people engaged in whale watching from disembarking and swimming with the cetaceans, or large ocean mammals.
However, the JAO only covers cetaceans such as whales, dolphins and porpoises, but not whale sharks which are classified as fish species.
According to Sumijon, they would have to await orders from the BFAR 7 to clarify the issue, particularly with the world-renowned whale shark interaction in Oslob, Cebu still operational, albeit drawing serious flak from local and international environmentalists.
Sumijon said that the whale sharks are in Lila waters for their nutritional needs as the area is part of their migration path.
“Ang factors ana, naay presensya sa pagkaon so moanha na sila,” he added.
There had also been reports indicating that the whale sharks were being forced to stay in the area by fencing them in with nets.
Sumijon said that holding the whale sharks captive would be illegal but noted that they will still have to verify if they were indeed enclosed by nets.
Environmentalists have pointed out that whale sharks are highly migratory animals which should not be trained to stay in one place.
According to SSNP, researchers have observed changes in whale sharks including modifications in their natural behavior which they project would severely affect the way they live and the environment.
“Researchers have observed marked changes in the whale sharks’ behavior and physiology and concerns have been raised on the impact to the local environment,” SSNP said.
“We call on BFAR, DOT, the province of Bohol, and the LGU of Lila to promote sustainable tourism practices and prohibit the practice of feeding,” it added.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines, whale sharks are an endangered species as assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and is considered a protected species through the Fisheries Administrative Order 193 (1998) and the Philippine Fisheries Code.
“Whale shark feeding is becoming more rampant and WWF-Philippines is against this practice,” it said in a statement issued this month on the whale shark interaction in Lila.
WWF Philippines noted that feeding hampers the migratory behavior of whale sharks which seasonally migrate to waters off Indonesia or Malaysia to reach their mating, breeding, and pupping grounds.
“When wild animals get used to being fed, they would inevitably seek out the source of this food and would start associating humans and boats with the likelihood of being fed. This makes them more vulnerable to hunting and boat collisions, causing death and for their numbers to dwindle,” the WWF said. (A. Doydora)