Mass slaughter wipes out whale sharks in Philippines

7 May 2001

CAMIGUIN ISLAND, Philippines — In this corner of the Bohol Sea, environmentalists fear that indiscriminate fishing has wiped out the whale sharks, the biggest fish in the world.  For two days, a team of environmentalists, divers and tourism officials aboard a 20-foot dive boat, searched for whale sharks around Camiguin Island in the Macajalar and Gingoog bays in Misamis Oriental. The search found no trace of the gentle shark.

"Nothing!  Maybe the years of indiscriminate fishing have taken its toll," said Dodong Uy, professional diver and member of the Mindanao Whale Watch Group.  With his wife Nana, Uy led the team in search for whale sharks on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Uy said that as many as 100 whale sharks could be sighted in these waters between February and May four years ago. Whale sharks are attracted by the rich plankton that abounds in the seas around Camiguin during these months, he said.

Whales were also common around the island.  Sometimes, the big whales would "proudly parade" to everyone's delight, Uy said. "But the local fishermen slaughtered them and sold them to buyers from Cebu and Manila," he said. Whale sharks (Rhincodon typhus) are highly priced in Taiwan where they are sold as "Tofu-shark" at $15 per kilo.

The Department of Agriculture issued Fisheries Administrative Order 193 on March 25, 1998, banning the catching, selling, purchase, possession, transport and exportation of whale sharks and manta rays (Manta birostris). These endangered species, which are considered delicacies by coastal residents in Misamis Oriental, have been declared protected by the government.

Under the law, violators are fined and imprisoned from six months to four years. But in Talisayan, Misamis Oriental, local fishers, in what could be considered their "last hunting season," slaughtered 100 whale sharks before the ban took effect. "Sightings of whale sharks have been few after that (slaughter). They (whale sharks) were decimated," Uy said.

Arlene Pantanosas, director of the Bureau Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Northern Mindanao, said fishermen in Misamis Oriental and Camiguin had been organized to stop the killing.  She said some fishers have agreed to follow the ban and monitor any slaughter of the whale sharks and dolphins.  "That's why we were surprised with the report that the population of the whale shark has gone down. The fishermen are helping us," Pantanosas said.

But Uy said government agencies should make twice as much effort to save whatever is left of the gentle whale sharks and other endangered species around the island.  The killing continues, he said, and now local fishers are targeting the dolphins that abound in these waters.

On Wednesday, local fishers told the team that four dolphins were slaughtered Tuesday night and the meat sold at P25 per kilo in the coastal towns of Talisayan and Medina in Misamis Oriental. The fishers added that the dolphin meat was sold directly to residents, avoiding the public market to prevent detection.

"I doubt if the local mayors would lift a finger, especially now that it is election time. These fishermen are voters and the mayors would not want to antagonize them," Uy said.

Dorothy Jean Pabayo, regional director of the Department of Tourism, said whale sharks and dolphins were big potentials for eco-tourism. But some local government officials in Misamis Oriental and Camiguin do not appreciate the rich marine resources in their localities, Pabayo said.

Source: CDNN - CYBER DIVER News Network