June 22, 2012 3 Comments
Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.
It is truly sad how misguided people sometimes do misguided acts…
Promoting positive coexistence between men and beasts is a major challenge for today’s generation. Fortunately, there are environmental, ecological and social movements that have painstakingly begun to grapple with this issue, both at the national and grassroots level, particularly in the community level. For these undertakings to succeed, however, massive investments in various areas are required.
A principal pillar for this coexistence is the education system. The education system requires a major paradigm shift in focus where conservation and sustainability become a core value in the education of the child. We need to invest heavily in our children. This means that our attitudes toward education require fundamental reassessments where education should be seen as an interaction between the community, the school and the child. It is this relationship, which can create space for ecological awareness and environmental preservation and conservation. Investments in the education of the child are a solid investment in ensuring a world where birds can still fill our skies, beasts roam our prairies and magnificent whale sharks — like Bale — swim in our oceans.
In the 1990s, whale sharks or butandings were poached in the waters off Pamilican Island in Bohol. This was a lucrative business in the Visayas as whale shark meat and fins commended a high price in the Taiwanese market. Thankfully, in 1998 Fisheries Administration Order 193 was signed making it illegal to catch, sell, buy posses, transport and export whale sharks and manta rays in the Philippines.
In Oslob, a small fishing community in Cebu, local fishermen explained that the practice of feeding whale sharks was not forced on the animals but was incidental. Uyap (small or brine shrimps), which the fishermen use as bait for fishing, abound in the area. It was around July 2011 when the locals began to notice the giant whale sharks feeding on the uyap, scaring away the fishes and interrupting their fishing activities. To divert the butanding‘s attention, the fishermen lured them out of the fishing grounds by feeding them uyap further along the coast. That’s when more and more of the whale sharks came to Oslob, some with juveniles tagging along.
The practice of feeding the whale sharks for tourists to see began in September 2011, when a fishermen led a whale shark in front of a dive shop in Oslob much to the delight of the visiting divers. By December 2011, tourists were flocking to the beach in Tan-awan not just to see the whale sharks being fed but also to snorkel or dive with them
At the time of my visit to Oslob in early May of this year, I was actually glad to see the following regulations being implemented:
- Whale shark viewing time opens at 6AM and closes at around noon but not later than 1PM
- Rules to observe when interacting with the whale sharks:
- Do not touch, ride, or chase a whale shark
- Do not restrict normal movement or behavior of the shark
- Do not use flash photography
- No motorboats are allowed, only paddleboats
- Viewing/Interaction is limited to 30 minutes
- A maximum of six tourists is allowed to view for 30 minutes while a maximum of four divers is allowed to avoid crowding
There has been widespread criticism that the regulations, after just a few weeks, are being ignored and not properly implemented. We must bear in mind however, that these regulations have just been implemented, and that this village has very little experience with tourism management. As such, they are starting with minimal infrastructure and training is in place. It takes time, commitment and support to properly implement regulations and socialize them within communities, and for us to continue to reinforce the importance of these regulations being applied effectively.
In my opinion, the above regulations are some of the strictest in the industry with regard to whale shark interaction. In Donsol, Sorsogon (Philippines) and parts of Mexico far more tourists are allowed to interact with the whale sharks.
As with all things in life, there are many strong opinions and diverse viewpoints regarding the feeding of whale sharks in Oslob. However, there is much to be learned by opening our minds to alternative perspectives, even if we don’t end up agreeing with that perspective. As the saying goes, “seek first to understand, then to be understood”. And a good starting point in understanding this ‘controversy’ is reading this article by Steve de Neef, To Feed or Not to Feed: Oslob’s Whale Shark Controversy.