|A girl uses a butanding (whale shark) as a surfboard in this photo, which went viral on Facebook.
MANILA, Philippines – The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said it is alarmed at how some people use whale sharks as surfboards, as seen in a photo that has gone viral on social networking sites.
David David, a researcher at WWF, said the group has been reminding residents of Oslob town in Cebu on how to properly conduct whale shark interactions for tourists, but there are still a number of violations.
The Facebook photo in question is reportedly from Oslob. But its mayor, Ronal Guarin, has denied that the incident took place in their town.
David stressed that riding atop whale sharks will cause significant stress to the animals.
“Sobrang stress, lalo na ‘yung tinatakpan sa likod. Kasi wala silang bones sa katawan nila, lalo na nasa mababaw na porsyon sila ng tubig. Minsan pag nai-strand sila, mismo ‘yung sarili nilang katawan hindi nila kayang i-support. How much more kung may nakatayong tao?” he told ABS-CBN News.
WWF has also asked local government units and agencies to act on the matter.
Carelle Listones, the girl who was photographed “riding” the whale shark, apologized for her actions on Monday after getting negative comments on social networking sites.
“Sorry talaga kung nagawa ko iyon,” Listones said in her local dialect. “Hindi ko kasi alam ang policy kung pwede bang sakyan o hawakan. Hindi kami aware tungkol diyan dito.”
Foreigners concerned, too
A handful of foreigners also expressed their concern over the treatment of whale sharks in some areas in the country.
Among them is Deborah Ploszynski, who said she would rather go to Donsol in Sorsogon to interact with marine animals.
“I went to Donsol because I really like the approach that they don’t feed them. They work together with WWF. It’s responsible, it’s for the whale shark and the people that live there,” she said.
Fishermen have been feeding whale sharks with baby shrimp for decades, making them rise to the surface of the water to the delight of tourists.
Tourists, however, are barred from feeding or swimming with the whale sharks.
Edmundo Arregadas, regional head of the coastal marine management division, earlier said he had discouraged the practice of feeding whale sharks, citing a “negative effect on the natural way of life of the whale shark.”
“By feeding the whale sharks, the giant fish might become dependent on handouts from people,” Arregadas told Agence France-Presse.
He added that this may make whale sharks at risk of colliding with other boats, or be caught and killed by poachers.
Whale sharks measure as much as 39 feet long, but are classified as harmless by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. – With reports from Erick Baldo, ABS-CBN News and Agence France-Presse