GenSan, Sarangani environment officials want measures to protect whale sharks

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 18 March) – Environment personnel here and nearby Sarangani Province are pushing for the crafting of special measures that would ensure the proper protection and management of whale sharks or “butanding” that recently emerged at a portion of the Sarangani Bay.

Rolando Tuballes, Sarangani Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (Penro) chief, said Tuesday they are currently coordinating with their counterparts in this city for the immediate formulation of a joint or unified policy on whale shark management.

“This is an urgent concern since we need to ensure that these whale sharks are properly protected while they remain in the area,” he said.

Local fishermen initially noticed the presence of the whale sharks, which was listed as vulnerable and decreasing in number by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, sometime last month.

Several residents have reported spotting three whale sharks several times these past weeks near the shores of the Queen Tuna Park here.

On Sunday morning, a team from Penro-Sarangani, City Tourism Office, Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) scouted the whale sharks and found two of them in the area.

A report released by the scouting team said the whale sharks, which were officially tagged as the 640th and 641st in the world, are around five to eight meters long and were initially found to be “friendly”

A video footage showed the two whale sharks surfacing near the motorboat carrying the team during the scouting activity.

Glenn Padro, fishery regulatory and law enforcement division chief of BFAR Region 12, said the highly migratory whale sharks could have come to the Sarangani Bay due to the abundance of sardine fishes, which is locally known as “lupuy.”

He said whale sharks mainly feed on sardines and small shrimps or “alamang” that are also abundant in the area.

“It’s sardines season at the bay right now so that could be the main reason why they’re in the area,” Padro said.

After the scouting activity, Tuballes said they posted notices at the Queen Tuna Park here, warning residents against inflicting harm, catching and even coming near the whale sharks.

He said they decided to post the notices after finding during the scouting activity that one of the whale sharks has some injuries on the mouth and dorsal fin that appeared to have been caused by a hard object.

The notices cited that such actions are strictly prohibited as provided for in Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.

It said that violators may face a fine of as much as P1 million and imprisonment of up to 12 years.

City Councilor Dominador Lagare III acknowledged the need for the city government to set some policies that would ensure the protection of the whale sharks.

He said the local government should also properly educate the local community regarding the presence of the whale sharks in the area and the prohibited acts concerning them.

“There’s a big chance that these whale sharks will be harmed if we will not act soon. We need to plan well and involve the community as well,” he added.