Whale sharks are being put at risk from human contact. BBC video footage shows swimmers in shallow water leaning on one fish like it was a huge inflated float and a girl standing on another as if it were a surfboard.
This happened in Cebu where a whale shark was moved close to shore so it could be freed from a fishing net. Those involved became aware of their mistake only after the public responded with outrage.
But elsewhere in the Philippines, locals are feeding the sharks to lure them closer to shore to attract tourists. This is creating risks from boat injuries and disruption of migration patterns, as well as from human contact.
These gentle giants have long been popular with divers who love swimming alongside them. However, the rules to “keep a distance and don’t touch” need better exposure. Concern over extinction has moved Maldives toward an effort to protect and monitor these creatures. The Philippines should join the effort to make sure all understand the need to limit human contact with whale sharks.
We, the undersigned, are concerned about what seems to be a relaxing of regulation of human contact with whale sharks, evidenced by recent reports from the BBC and others.
We believe concerns about this species’ extinction should be taken seriously and that the Philippine government should join the efforts of those in Maldives, working to protect the whale shark from further harm.
However, we are not in favor of jailing people for making mistakes such as those made by the locals in Cebu who meant no harm. Educating them about keeping proper distance from whale sharks, and having trained response teams to handle such situations in the future would be a better approach.
Clearly putting whale sharks by those hoping to profit from tourism should be stopped. We request that your government set limits on human contact with whale sharks and be sure everyone is educated about these regulations.
Thank you for your attention to these concerns.