​Whale Shark Feeding Frenzy Causes Controversy In Philippines​​

March 13, 2021

Tourists love a free ride on a whale shark, but the feeding frenzy is causing controversy for the sleepy village, one that the locals don’t need. It starts by the local fishermen who hand feed them small shrimp to lure them into the Tan-awan shoreline.

Whale Shark Feeding

It’s a spectacular show for divers and snorkelers to see the highly sought-after animals, known as gentle giants of the sea.

But the practice has sparked fierce debate on the Internet and among biologists, who decry it as unnatural.

“Some people are asking that we stop feeding, but if we stop feeding, what is our livelihood?” said Ramonito Lagahid, vice chairman of the Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden and Fishermen Association (TOSWFA). “We have to go back to fishing.”

Though whale sharks as large as 42 feet and a weight of more than 47,400 lbs have been confirmed, they feed mainly on algae, plankton and krill. Contrary to their name, the animals are docile and pose no risk to humans.

Much of their life cycle remains unknown to science, including total population numbers. Some are killed in areas where they tend to congregate, and the species as a whole is considered “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Word about the whale sharks got out globally about two years ago via Internet postings from witnesses, and tourists began flocking to the village both from the Philippines and around the world. Most days see several hundred, but 2012 numbers peaked with 1,642 on Good Friday in 2012.

Fees for foreign tourists range from $12 to just watch the whale sharks. The money is pooled and each villager who works that day, as a guide or boat driver, receives 1,000 to 1,500 pesos - a good fee for the rural Philippines.

“It looks like being in a zoo, a circus, looking at the animal walking up and down being fed. This is not a natural behavior that you see,” said Alessandro Ponzo, the president of Physalus.

“The experience that you have … is not the same as when you see them in the wild, in their natural environment. What you learn here is that wild life is (fine) to be exploited as a tourism attraction.”

Biologists fear that the situation could lead the whale sharks to develop abnormal social behaviors, such as increased aggression or competition between the animals. The close contact could also lead to the spread of disease and parasites.

Animal rights groups say they understand the importance of tourism as a source of livelihood, but emphasize that it has to be done in a sustainable way in order to become a long-term possibility.