Whale sharks sighted off Oslob

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Saturday, December 10, 2011


THE town of Oslob in southern Cebu noted a sudden increase in the number of tourists. They can only think of one reason—whale sharks.

In the past three months, whale sharks have been seen off Barangay Tan-awan, Oslob. From just one, seven—including two pups—were seen interacting with divers Tuesday last week.

Reneboy Servila, who helped organize a group of fishermen to become tourist guides, said that at first they did not mind the presence of the whale sharks (locally known as tuki). However, the whale sharks started to compete with the fishermen in catching tiny shrimps called uyap.

Servila said they realized they could turn the phenomenon into a tourism attraction when they learned that they could feed the whale sharks near the sea’s surface.

Through word of mouth, people have started going to Tan-awan to swim with the whale sharks.

Charges

At Servila’s place, they charge P100 for the entrance and P100 for snorkel gear rental.

The fishermen-turned-boatmen, who catch the shrimp to be fed to the whale sharks, also charge P100.

Tourism-wise, the development would be good for Oslob and turn the town into an alternative destination to Donsol, Sorsogon where tourists can swim with the gigantic but docile sea creatures.

However, what might be good for the local tourism and livelihood of the fisherfolk may be harmful to the whale sharks.

There were reports that even the boatmen do not know how to handle the whale sharks. Some even rode on them underwater and held their dorsal fins and gills.

Upon hearing this, the Sea Knights—a group of divers who consider themselves stewards of the sea—went to Oslob to check.

Last Thursday, the group was able to measure the biggest whale shark in the area, at eight meters. The smallest one they found was five meters in length.

Report

The Sea Knights also wanted to observe how the locals handle the creatures and how much information dissemination on proper handling is needed. They will make a report to the mayor.

“Oslob is already planning on making an ordinance to protect the whale sharks. We want to recommend to the local government that they make an ordinance as soon as possible and have it implemented right away since the number of whale sharks seen in the area is growing rapidly,” said Fr. Charlie Orobia, OAR, Sea Knights vice president.

Orobia, also vice president for students’ welfare at the University of San Jose-Recoletos, noted that tourists who go to Oslob are allowed to touch the whale sharks even if the guides tell them not to.

Boats, even the motorized ones from Sumilon and neighboring islands get close to the sharks’ feeding ground.

“They should never be touched because whale sharks are a very rare species and they are susceptible to diseases. The boats should maintain a certain distance.
There is a need to educate the boatmen and to let them understand their responsibilities. Tourists should also be briefed on the dos and don’ts before taking a plunge,” he said.

He said that while the presence of the whale sharks will usher in mass tourism and help boost the economy in the town, residents should take care of the whale sharks and the marine ecosystem in the area.

The Sea Knights plan to print out information materials on the proper handling of the whale sharks to be posted at resorts.

Orobia said it would also help to map out guidelines similar to those used in Donsol, Sorsogon.

Felicito Alonto of the Municipal Government admitted that the local government has yet to craft guidelines.

“Bag-o paman gud mi nakahibalo ani (We just learned about this),” he said. He added that markers should be placed to guide motorboats where to drop anchor.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 11, 2011.

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