MANILA, Philippines – The mayor of Boljoon, Cebu, where the controversial “whale shark as surfboard” photo was taken, has reported to the Department of Tourism what really happened to the hapless marine animal.
In a statement, the DOT said its Region VII director, Rowena Montecillo, met with Boljoon Mayor Teresita Celis, who confirmed the “unfortunate incident.”
Citing Celis, the agency said the whale shark, locally called “butanding,” was trapped in the net of local fishermen, causing it to be brought near the shore.
“It was brought near the shore because the fishermen had difficulty in freeing the creature while in deeper waters,” the DOT said.
Residents and tourists were then drawn to the whale shark, with some even riding the animal, as seen in the viral Facebook photo.
Celis, according to the DOT, has assured that those who were involved in the incident “were already reprimanded and warned of being penalized if caught again.”
“The whale shark was later released into the open sea,” the agency said.
It was earlier reported that the incident took place in nearby Oslob town, where there are still a number of violations when it comes to conducting whale shark interactions for tourists, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Marine biologists in Oslob have also said some whale sharks in the area have fresh wounds, which could have been obtained through close contact with boatmen and tourists.
Carelle Listones, the girl who was photographed riding the whale shark, earlier apologized for her actions after drawing flak from Filipino Internet users.
Following the incident, residents in Boljoon expressed their willingness to undergo training on whale shark interaction, the DOT said.
The agency stressed that other local government units and communities where whale sharks frequent should follow suit.
“Tourism should coexist with the protection and conservation of these marine animals. We need to heighten people’s awareness and capacitate the community to effectively manage the interaction so that it will not cause undue harm or disturbance to the normal behavior of the sharks,” Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. said.
“The guidelines are there to be enforced not only for the stakeholders to protect its principal natural attraction, but also to raise awareness on marine conservation issues,” he added.
Meanwhile, the DOT and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources are set to conduct an “awareness caravan” next month in line with the Month of the Ocean celebrations.