I am making this statement not in my capacity as a travel blogger, a journalist, or a teacher. I am not even writing this one because I am the son of a resort owner in Donsol and our livelihood mainly depends on the whale sharks that abound in our area. I am not enraged because I am from Donsol, the small town south of Luzon which showed the world that, yes, there’s a way to conserve the whale sharks via ecotourism. I don’t even count the fact that when the whole world flocked to Donsol in 1998, I was only fifteen then and I closely watched and understood how environmental groups and individuals worked and fought so hard to establish a program that would ensure the protection of whale sharks from hunters and poachers, not just in the Philippines, but around the world.
I am making this statement because as a human being, this is the right thing to do. Ride the waves, not the sharks!
A friend of mine posted a link on my Facebook wall that shows this photograph.
I know you know that there is wrong with this image. Sean Lee, the possible source of this photograph, says this was taken in Oslob where “whalesharks used as practice surfboards (sic).” Oslob, in Cebu, has been in the news for quite a time now since it was made known that whale sharks are being fed in Barangay Tan-awan, one of Oslob’s fishing villages.
I went to Oslob last January to look at the feeding activity that’s happening in the area and to write a news report about it. You can tell that I was not really happy with what I saw. I am not against developing the potential of tourism in Oslob. For someone who came from Donsol and witnessed how tourism has changed the lives of people in our once sleepy fishing village, I would be happy for Oslob to also see itself transform out of a tourism boom. When I talked with the locals of Oslob, I felt a sense of excitement around them like the whale shark feeding frenzy in Oslob is that golden pot they’ve been waiting for too long.
While I was not very happy with how they treated the whale sharks (feeding them so often and keeping them from going away from the crowd by dangling food when the whale sharks try to swim away), I was hopeful Oslob will come up with a better mechanism to change their “tourist activity.” I was secretly, really, really hoping that Oslob will have better understanding of whale sharks and that one day they will come up with a tourism plan that does not involve feeding the whale sharks.
One of the comments made on the post state that this incident happened in Boljoon, another town in Cebu that is not very far from Oslob. (I have contacted the person who provided that information, but he hasn’t replied to my email yet). If this is indeed true, this is a cause for alarm as it appears to me that not a lot of people are educated about the whale sharks. If this is not acted upon soon, other people might emulate this activity and that could be very frustrating.
What is certain is that this one has gone too far already and I won’t take this sitting down. This is not the kind of image that we want to show the world. Who in the right mind will do this? Why will you step on a whale shark? Why will you restrict the movement of this animal by putting a rope around its tail and holding it with all your might? Whale sharks are gentle animals, they do not surely deserve this kind of treatment from us!
This activity is ruining the effort that a lot of people have put in protecting and conserving the whale sharks around the world. I don’t know if the locals understand that the whale sharks are wildlife animals and they should be treated as such. Looking at this photograph makes me want to think that the kind of tourists who go there are just after the “feeding show” and do not have the slightest idea that whale sharks are highly migratory and they should not be contained in one area, should not be domesticated, should not be touched, and more importantly, should not be used as a surfboard.
Come on Pinoys, let us not make a fool of ourselves this time. Let us keep the white spot bright. Really, this has got to stop. Let us become responsible tourists. We are juanderkids, right? We are so much better than this. 😦