Whale Shark Watching in the Philippines: “Its not Natural” say Scientists

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Images like this one…

Swimming with a Whale Shark at Orlob [Cebu], Philippines. Photo by Shawn Heinrich of Barcroft Media

Swimming with a Whale Shark at Orlob [Cebu], Philippines. Photo by Shawn Heinrich of Barcroft Media

this one….

A local hand feeding aWhale Shark in Oslob [Cebu]. Philippines. Photo byShawn Heinrich of Barcroft Media

A local hand feeding aWhale Shark in Oslob [Cebu]. Philippines. Photo by Shawn Heinrich of Barcroft Media

And this one…

A feeding Whale Shark in Oslob [Cebu]. Philippines. Photo by Edgar Mirabel

A feeding Whale Shark in Oslob [Cebu]. Philippines. Photo by Steve de Neef (http://stevedeneef.com/)

Are receiving vehement criticism from biologists. According to NBC news, apparently the feeding will cause “long term problems”. According to the article:

Whale sharks are lured to the Tan-awan coastline of the Oslob district by fishermen who hand feed them small shrimp, drawing divers and snorkelers to see the highly sought-after animals, known as gentle giants of the sea.”

Lured? no they are not. They are hand fed.

This hand feeding and the whale shark watching business that has emerged as a result of the returning whale sharks has sparked fierce debate on the internet and among biologists, who decry it as unnatural. Most of this criticism is coming from the Italian eNGO Physalus. According to the president of Physalus, Alessandro Ponzo:

“It is very rare to have so many whale sharks in such a small area so regularly. Feeding from a boat close to humans is also extremely unnatural.”

“It looks like being in a zoo, a circus, looking at the animal walking up and down being fed. This is not a natural behaviour that you see. The experience that you have … is not the same as when you see them in the wild, in their natural environment. What you learn here is that wild life is (fine) to be exploited as a tourism attraction.”

Un-natural?

This is hardly the basis of robust criticism! Arguably any interaction we have with the natural world is un-natural isn’t it?

According to an article on Stuff news page “Shark-feeding slammed” the criticism is based on a combination of potential behavioural abnormality, lack of information and sustainability concerns with respect to krill, which is their main food source.

Although whale sharks as large as 12.7 metres and have a weight of more than 21.5 tons, they feed mainly on algae, plankton and krill. Contrary to their name, the animals are docile and pose no risk to humans.

Much of their life cycle remains unknown to science, including total population numbers. Some are killed in areas where they tend to congregate, and the species as a whole is considered “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Biologists fear that the situation could lead the whale sharks to develop abnormal social behaviours  such as increased aggression or competition between the animals. The close contact could also lead to the spread of disease and parasites.

ENGOs and tourists who are concerned that the feeding is an “exploitation of both the fish and the people” have set A Facebook page, “Stop Whale Shark Feeding in Oslob, Cebu, Philippines” which now has 881 likes.

Physalus is evaluating the effects of tourism and feeding on the behavior of whale sharks and hopes their research will help the local government manage whale shark tourism and minimize the environmental impact. Biologist Samantha Craven (the Physalus group’s project coordinator in Oslob):

“You should stop the detrimental effect to the shark, but you should also improve the livelihood of the community as well.”

Good grief!

The reply of locals apart from what I can only gather is utter disbelief is along these lines:

“Some people are asking that we stop feeding, but if we stop feeding, what is our livelihood?” said Ramonito Lagahid, vice chairman of the Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden and Fishermen Association (TOSWFA). “We have to go back to fishing.”

According to a Cebu Daily News article (Gov’t wants Oslob tourism to offer more than whale sharks), Oslob Mayor Ronaldo Guaren lamented the drop in the number of tourists after negative reports surfaced about the whale shark phenomenon in Oslob, heightened by an online petition by some marine researchers to stop the artificial feeding of whale sharks.

In response to the accusations that the hand feeding is “Luring” whale sharks to Oslob, Dr. Manuel Aragones, a marine biologist from the University of the Philippines asserts that:

“[T]here is this hypothesis of a small group of scientists in UP, where we believe that there might be an upwelling in that section… Upwelling occurs when there’s a movement of water from the bottom to the surface seasonally which brings nutrients and prey to the surface, food which attracts the migratory whale sharks.”

You be the judge. I for one… am of the opinion that the whole basis of the criticism is absolutely ridiculous.

For your Information a very good video on whale sharks:

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4 thoughts on “Whale Shark Watching in the Philippines: “Its not Natural” say Scientists

  1. I rarely comment, however after browsing a few of the remarks here Whale Shark Watching in the
    Philippines: Its not Natural say Scientists | Green Fish
    Blue Fish. I do have some questions for you if it’s okay. Could it be only me or does it seem like some of the remarks appear as if they are coming from brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are writing on other social sites, I would like to follow you. Would you list of every one of all your social sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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