The Whale Shark, the biggest shark in the world, is fairly friendly considering its size and species cousins. According to ABS-CBNnews, fishermen have been feeding whale sharks with baby shrimp for decades, making them rise to the surface to the delight of tourists. While fisherman may indulge, tourists are banned from feeding or swimming with the whale shark.
So a picture of a girl riding the whale shark like a surfboard that recently went viral has created a social media buzz and enraged environmentalists. Marine biologists say whale sharks in the area have fresh wounds and it has been reported that the creature was captured and held down by a fisherman to enable tourist viewing:
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) earlier expressed alarm as some people use whale sharks as surfboards, as seen in a photo that has gone viral on social networking sites.
The Department of Tourism (DOT), meanwhile, urged the public to stop criticizing Carelle Listones, the girl who was photographed riding a whale shark.
Director Rowena Montecillo of DOT Region VII said that instead of dishing out negative comments on social networking sites, Filipinos must focus on spreading the word on how to properly interact with whale sharks.
Listones apologized for her actions on Monday after getting flak from Filipino netizens over her photo.
In an interview, she said she was not aware that riding atop whale sharks is not allowed.
The Sun Star reports that a resident in Boljoon had paid a fisherman P100 to tie the stranded whale shark down so visitors could see the animal. The whale shark was stranded in Barangay Granada in Boljoon March 31 after it got caught in a fishnet and dragged to shallow waters:
Maylyn Avenido, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources-Integrated Coastal Resource Management Project community organizer in Boljoon, said the whale shark was stranded around 5 a.m. Saturday but was only released at 7:30 a.m.
Avenido, who personally went to the area around 7 a.m. after her attention was called, ordered the fishermen to set the whale shark free but a certain Judie Bequilla insisted to tie the whale shark for an hour, as she was waiting for her visitors who wanted to see the gentle giant.
Avenido went on to say the shark was over nine feet long. Sheryll Tesch, administrative officer and conservation fellow of Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation (CCEF) Inc, told the Sun Star she understood that people only took the opportunity to see a Whale Shark for free, unlike in Oslob town in Cebu where whale sharks watching costs P300 per person. However, Tesch added that what the people did in Boljoon was wrong.
The Daily Mail notes that environmentalists fear that tourists who fail to keep their distance from the Whale Sharks will disrupt the sharks' migration patterns.