Whale sharks return to Camiguin, gov't asks tourists, locals to let them be

CAMIGUIN, Northern Mindanao – In a rare occurence, two whale sharks were captured on video by tourists and divers in the waters of Camiguin Friday, January 3, swimming alongside dive boats and playing with divers.

Whale sharks used to be populous in Camiguin and Misamis Oriental, but their numbers had dwindled in recent decades due to poaching. Their newfound presence gives high hopes that these gentle marine giants are back to stay and will repopulate.

Camiguin Governor Jurdin Jesus Romualdo said the island's marine sanctuary area and sustainable fishing practices may have helped in regaining whale sharks' trust and confidence. (READ: Viral photos show problem in 'whale shark tourism')

"We have received reported sightings of at least 3 whale sharks. We are happy that they are back but we need to protect them," Romualdo said.

Romualdo added that the Camiguin government needs to coordinate with the towns of Balingoan and Talisayan in Misamis Oriental to help protect these whale sharks. He also said that the provincial Bantay Dagat Office, along with the maritime police and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) are securing their municipal waters to prevent poachers from coming in.

Teodoro Bacolod Jr, BFAR-10 assistant regional director, said it was possible that the whale sharks were looking for food in the area. Whale sharks feed on plankton and other small marine animals such as krill.

Bacolod added that the BFAR have warned fisherfolk not to kill these animals as this is a violation of Republic Act 8550, the country’s Fisheries Code. Whale sharks are considered as endangered species, and killing them is illegal.

Romualdo said that he has issued directives for tourists and locals not to touch or feed the whale sharks, as he wants the creatures to thrive in their natural environment and follow their instincts. (READ: Swimming with whale sharks? Don't copy these snorkelers!)

"We are avoiding them depending on feedings as these may have a negative results," Romualdo said. “We just let them (whale sharks) be, allowing them to be in their natural habitat. I discouraged feeding them as they will become dependent on humans for food." – Rappler.com