Online Pinoys decry photo of locals riding, touching a butanding

By Anna Valmero

QUEZON CITY, METRO MANILA—Filipinos on social networking site Facebook cried foul over online photos of lady riding a butanding (Rhincodon typus) and a group of locals holding the same whale shark while posing for some snapshots.

The photos were first posted on the  Facebook page of Dive Philippines group and went viral immediately, with over 100 shares and hundreds of Filipinos talking online about the supposed malpractice on handling a whale shark interaction.

According to the timestamps, the photos were reportedly taken on March 31 at Boljoon in Cebu near the town of Oslob, which recently opened whaleshark interaction for tourists.

“It was found out to be a stranded whale shark then released afterwards. A review is being under taken on how to educate the local barangays to properly handle these situations in the future so such incidents do not occur again,” according to the group page.

Filipino netizens were united in saying that there is a need to review the education program for coastal communities who have higher chances of interactions with stranded butandings.

It was about time that tourism operators review their procedures especially when involving wildlife interaction, according to them.

Dave Llorito, a communications officer for an international agency posted this status message after viewing the photo: “I don't visit zoos, won't get close to a tarsier, won't swim with whale sharks or touch a sea turtle. I'm wary of 'tourism' that entails interaction between animals and humans. Animals are better left in the wild or their natural habitat.”

Amalia Fe Cordero Grunder commented on the photo of the girl riding the butanding: “Talagang dapat bigyan ng educasyon ang mga mamayan kung papaano mag handle sa mga marine animals na ito!”

Ron Frias, on the other hand, encouraged others to spend their summer by joining awareness campaigns on the importance of marine animals. He said: “This summer lets spend educating people while we have our vacation in our marine resources... Have a sensible summer everyone!”

According to WWF-Philippines chief executive Lory Tan, tourists and coastal communities should be properly educated especially in wildlife interaction.

In Donsol, where WWF-Philippines trained butanding interaction officers, there are rules on how to properly swim with and take photos of the butandings.

For example, tourists cannot use flash when taking images of the butandings and they are prohibited from swimming closer or touching any part of the butanding. Only a small group of six per boat is allowed to interact and swim with a butanding for any given time so as not to scare them away, according to Donsol butanding interaction officer Allan Amanse.

“Tourists are only guests in the marine habitat, the home of the whale sharks and so, we cannot always guarantee an interaction. This is the difference of ecotourism to mass tourism wherein you have the animals taken out of their natural home,” said Amanse in an earlier interview.

(Photos from Dive Philippines Facebook Page)

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