A member of the Sarangani-Environmental Conservation and Protection Center (ECPC) research team documents one of the whale sharks sighted off Barangay Ladol, Alabel town in Sarangani. (Photo courtesy of the Sarangani-ECPC/Office of the Governor)
GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- Marine researchers reported on Friday fresh sightings of three to five possible new migrant whale sharks or “butandings” in a portion of Sarangani Bay.
Dr. Roy Mejorada, marine biologist and in-house veterinarian of the Sarangani Environmental Conservation and Protection Center (ECPC), said the whale sharks were spotted by their team off the shores of Barangay Ladol, Alabel town in Sarangani province on Thursday.
He said the whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) were found in deep portions of the waters adjacent to several fish cages.
Mejorada, who heads a research tasked to monitor and document the whale sharks in Sarangani Bay, said they surveyed the area following reports of their presence from residents and fishermen.
During the validation, he said the team took pictures of the whale sharks to determine whether they are new migrants or among the 16 already documented in parts of the bay since 2014.
He said they will send them to the Large Marine Vertebrates or LAMAVE Research Institute Philippines for proper verification.
“They have access to the whale shark database and the capability to process the pictures to establish if they were spotted previously anywhere in the country or not,” he said in an interview.
If found to be new migrants, the number of documented whale sharks in the bay will rise to as high as 21, he said.
Since January, the research team documented 14 new whale sharks, specifically spotted surface-feeding in the waters off the Queen Tuna Park and Purok Silway here and at the Tuka Marine Park in Kiamba, Sarangani.
In 2014, two whale sharks, tagged as P640 and P641, were documented off the coasts of this city, bringing their current total count to 16.
The ECPC, which is under the office of Sarangani Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon, was earlier tapped by the newly-activated Task Force Butanding-GenSan to lead the whale shark research.
The task force is composed of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office, City Tourism Council, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Department of Tourism, Philippine Coast Guard, Protected Area Management Board, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the coastal barangays here.
In response to the whale shark sightings in Alabel, Mejorado said the governor directed the implementation of measures to ensure the proper protection of the “gentle giants of the sea.”
“We need the cooperation of everyone to maintain a healthy environment for the whale sharks,” he said.
He said residents and fishermen should not be afraid of the whale sharks as these don’t harm humans.
Mejorada said they should be allowed to just feed off small fish that are abundant in Sarangani Bay.
“Just let them be in the wild. We should not get close to them, hold, ride or harm them in any way. If you take pictures, don’t use flash,” he said.
Should there be a new sighting of whale sharks, it should be reported immediately to the ECPC, local environmental offices, and the nearest DENR office.
Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act, prohibits the maltreatment or killing of endangered species, such as the whale shark.
Violators may face a fine of as much as PHP1 million and imprisonment of up to 12 years.