By ELLALYN B. DE VERA
April 28, 2012, 8:30pm
MANILA, Philippines – International conservation group, World Wide Fund for Nature– Philippines (WWF-Philippines), expressed concern yesterday over the dwindling number of whale shark (locally known as “Butanding”) sighting, mainly due to unrestrained tourism in Donsol, Sorsogon.
“Donsol now has far more visitors than it can handle. Coupled with the fact that sightings are decreasing, more and more interaction violations are being reported,” WWF Donsol Project Manager Raul Burce said.
Citing the Donsol Tourism Office’s data, WWF said the office has recorded more than 25,000 visitors in 2011.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) had earlier predicted that over 50,000 tourists will flock to the town before the whale shark season ends this June.
Burce explained that standing rules include having no more than a single boat with six swimmers per shark, limiting interactions to 10 minutes, staying at least three me¬ters away from the shark’s body and four meters from its tail, prohibiting physical contact plus flash photog¬raphy and keeping to the three hour tour limit for boats.
“I saw some swimmers break the rules today. Some touched the sharks. Twice swimmers from different bancas raced in when our spotter saw a shark. I think it’s be¬cause the guides aren’t seeing as many sharks as they are used to. Some boats saw none at all,” tourist Anton Lim said.
WWF-Philippines urged tourists, boatmen and guides to observe the existing rules in interacting with the whale sharks.
“The policies were designed not just to protect the whale sharks, but tourists as well. A 30-foot shark can accidentally swat a swimmer stray¬ing too close to its tail. By respecting the rules, we’re minimizing our im¬pacts on the ecosystem, especially the sharks,” Burce said.
At present, WWF is attempting to track whale shark movements within Donsol Bay through the use of state-of-the art fish tracking monitors.
The current spotting system banks solely on the trained eyes of whale shark spotters, seeking shadows plying the water.
“Using just your eyes can be dif¬ficult, particularly if it is raining or overcast. When it rains, the chance of a successful interaction drops,” former Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) Association president Al¬lan Amanse said.
The new trackers utilize stationary sonar modules, which bounce sound-waves off all solid objects. Large creatures such as whale sharks or shoals of fish can easily be made out.
Likewise, the trackers also log water temperature.
WWF noted that the extreme heat has also a negative effect on Donsol’s eco-tourism industry.
Currently, Donsol’s surface water temperature averages 28.3 degrees Celsius or over two degrees Celsius hotter than the average of 26.1 degrees recorded during the same period in 2010.
“Our initial findings seem to indi¬cate that the whale sharks are staying in deep water, possibly to avoid the heat,” WWF whale shark expert Dave David said.
“They are also highly migratory creatures, so it is not easy to regularly predict their whereabouts. In the summer of 2001, very few sightings were reported. It seems this year is similar,” he added.
The province of Sorsogon is host to one of the highest concentrations of whale sharks in the world. These creatures have been frequenting the waters off Donsol for generations and in 1998, the DOT declared this area an official sanctuary for the whale shark, thus protected this fascinating species.
Although “Butanding” are enormous in size and power, reaching lengths greater than 15 meters, they are remarkably gentle and docile enough that it is generally safe to swim among them. Swimming among the whale sharks is a captivating experience. If one is not comfortable swimming in the waters, then it is just as amazing to experience them from the boat. The Butanding swim along side the boat all the time. Generally, the whale sharks at Don¬sol swim very close to the surface of the water.
- Too many tourists in Donsol (sorsogoncity.wordpress.com)
- Donsol’s Biggest Catch (sorsogoncity.wordpress.com)
- Hot weather may be driving whale sharks to deeper waters (newsinfo.inquirer.net)