A whale shark was spotted being chased by a speed boat boarded by foreign-looking tourists in Bato, Santander town last Tuesday.
Gena Dayon, a volunteer for the ecology group Save the Philippine Seas, said she was at a terminal waiting for a ship bound for Negros when passengers spotted the tourists chasing a baby whale shark.
She quickly grabbed her mobile phone to take photos but wasn't quick enough to spot the whale shark.
“The whale shark was swimming really fast and was chased by a boat,” Dayon told Cebu Daily News in an interview.
Dayon immediately reported it to the organization who later posted the incident on Twitter.
The incident occurred amid concerns raised by ecology groups, marine biologists and veterinarians on how local governments deal with the creatures.
Dayon said she saw five people on the boat. Two of them are boatmen and the three are Korean-looking tourists.
Santander is located next to Oslob town where hand-feeding of the whale sharks had become their main tourist attraction.
Alessandro Ponzo, director of the Italian marine research non-government organization (NGO) called Physalus, voiced concern over the Oslob whale-shark feeding practice and how another town, Moalboal, had been duplicating it.
Ponzo, who said his group had been observing the whale sharks since March 31 this year, said the changes in the feeding behavior of the whale sharks make them very vulnerable to human predators.
He said they identified 56 unique whale sharks that have passed through the coast of Oslob since March 31.
A photo of each whale shark were uploaded on a website and were identified through their distinguishing spots.
There are six whale sharks seen on a daily basis since they started the study.
“We cannot really tell about their health condition. But the longer they stay in Oslob the more scars and wounds they get in their body,” Ponzo told Cebu Daily News.
He said their swimming and feeding behavior is no longer normal since they are feeding on a vertical position.
“They are just floating with their heads above the water and their tails below and they are so used to begging for food,” he said.
As a result, Ponzo said their survival instincts are depleted because of constant feeding.
“The danger is not only in Oslob. It is the learning that they get in Oslob that makes them vulnerable for hunting,” he said.
Moalboal Mayor Inocentes Cabaron confirmed that dive shops in Pescador island have started to feed whale sharks to let them stay in the area longer.
He said he doesn't discourage this because it will boost tourism like the case of Oslob.
But Regional Director Rowena Montecillo of the Department of Tourism in Central Visayas said she would rather have Moalboal town let the whale sharks be and focus on the town’s other tourism attractions.
Moalboal is a well known tourist destination for its white sand beaches and rich dive sites.
A new whale shark conservation ordinance passed first reading in the Moalbal municipal council in June. It has yet to undergo a public hearing.
Greenpeace also called on the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to look into the feeding practice before the ordinance is finalized.
Whale sharks pass through the seas in Cebu as part an emigrational path in their search for food. They eat microscopic plankton and krill which are seasonal in nature.
An average of 10 to 12 whale sharks per day are found in Oslob town, said Ponzo. In their record, the most number of whale sharks found at one time was 20. /Marian Z. Codilla, Reporter