Whale sharks of Oslob
Whale shark tourism is nothing new in the Philippines but in the small fishing village of Oslob outside Cebu city, a unique relationship between fishermen and whale sharks has evolved.
Fishermen feed the whale sharks brine shrimps everyday by hand.
Now tourist are flocking to the area to get an 'up- close and personal experience'. either by outrigger or underwater. Promoting awareness for shark conservation and appreciation for the ocean environment. Maybe this could be a model for the ocean aquariums of the future.
Conservationists and scientists are divided on how to move forward and control the feeding of sharks by the fishermen.
Having witnessed the slaughter of whale sharks by fishermen elsewhere in the region, the interaction could be viewed as a ray of hope for future eco-tourism projects and how man and whale shark could co-exist, and even appreciate one another.
After spending a week in the water in late March 2012, clearly there are some serious issues to be discussed. The first one being the feeding. Originally the fishermen were catching brine shrimp locally by night and feeding in the mornings, sharks in the area were turning up to feed, but sometime in late February the food source dried up and most of the sharks moved on except for three to four juveniles. The fishermen quickly searched near by towns and eventually found a type small shrimp, but not brine shrimp. The feeding continued. The shrimp that was being used was several days old and on some occasions started to go off.
Many conservation groups are calling for the feeding to stop as concerns for the migration will be effected. But what I witnessed was a relationship between the sharks and the fishermen not seen before. The sharks really seemed to enjoy the interaction. But could these sharks become so dependent on the fishermen? domesticated even.
If that was the case, is it so bad? After all we've been putting whale sharks into sea worlds around the world for years, also don't forget that the Philippines has a history of killing whale sharks, plus many people throughout the country live in poverty. So is this an opportunity?
To improve the standard of living for the community at large, to create a small marine reserve around the area as a no take-zone, to bring shark conservation into the main stream. It's far from perfect but let's be realistic and think about the state of the worlds oceans. It could be really postive for ocean conservation in the Philippines.
Sure better management is needed with the sourcing of food, but the answer could lie in only feeding in season which makes more sense, but not to the fishermen or to the local Mayor who has decided to take 40 percent of every entry fee paid.
Presently snorkelers, divers and out-rigger canoes are allowed to be in the water at the same time, this is proving to be very chaotic. With people at all levels from the surface to mid water to the seabed the sharks have really know where to run to, if they decide to pull-out. To start with they could ban the divers. You don't need to dive at all. Everything happens at the surface, plus the walls of bubbles must confuse the sharks.
Just last week a whale shark was rescued in a near by village, according to residents the shark was tangled in nets. It was brought into shallow waters and the nets was removed but in all the excitement kids decided to ride the whale shark. I can recall playing with injured animals as a kid before we released them, surely that is where my appreciation comes from. We need to really look at the big picture. It's all good. The shark was seen in Oslob a week later, healthy and enjoying a free meal.
People tend to want to put a stop to what's right in front of them. But there are bigger fights to be fought for sharks. Stopping a small village from trying to improve their quality of life by feeding whale sharks for tourist is not that pressing.
Copyright: Photo: Paul HILTON / GREENPEACE.