Koronadal City—A total of 14 whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) were discovered and documented in Sarangani Bay on Saturday.
The Task Force Butanding Gensan disclosed that the recent documentation of whale sharks in Sarangani Bay made the Philippines as the second largest known population of whale sharks in the world, according to the Wildbook for Whale Sharks, a global online library that provides a visual database of whale shark encounters around the world.
These whale sharks or “butanding” were spotted surface feeding in the waters adjacent to Silway, General Santos City which were officially tagged as P1597, P1598, P1599, P1601, P1603, P1604, P1606, P1607, P1608, P1609, P1614, P1615, P1616 and one in Kiamba, Sarangani (P1605).
This is an addition to two whale sharks P-640 and P-641 that were documented in General Santos City by the Department of Environment of Environment and Natural Resources in Region XII and the City ENRO in the year 2014 making up a total number of 16 whale sharks documented in Sarangani Bay.
The documentation was forwarded to Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute for individual identification.
In a recent article from the LAMAVE Research Institute, Australia was once recognized as the second largest known population on the database, while Mexico remains the number one global hotspot.
The Philippines’ progression to the number two spot highlights the global significance of the archipelago for this endangered species and emphasizes the country as a conservation leader for the species in South East Asia.
According to LAMAVE, being recognized as the second most significant whale shark population in the world is something to be celebrated. LAMAVE hopes that the Philippines will continue to lead in conservation efforts to protect the Butanding, the article added.
DENR XII Regional Executive Director Nilo B. Tamoria on Saturday met with some members of the Task Force Butanding Gensan, a composite team responsible for the protection and conservation of whale shark at the Queen Tuna Park.
“This is an urgent concern because we need to ascertain that these whale sharks should be protected while they are still in our area. We should come up with measures for their protection because there is a possibility that they will be harmed if we will not act the soonest time,” Director Tamora said.
“We should intensify our information drive to the community on the presence of whale sharks in the area and the prohibited acts as stipulated in Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act and other related laws,” Tamoria added.
Governor Steve Chiongbian-Solon of Sarangani Province has ordered the Environmental Conservation and Protection Center (ECPC) to lead the research team together with DENR and the LGU Gensan to gather relevant data that would help in the conservation and protection of these whale sharks.
According to the team, the highly migratory whale sharks were sighted in Sarangani Bay due to the abundance of sardine fishes, which is locally known as “lupuy.”
In an interview, Dr. Roy Operario Mejorada of the Provincial Government Office of Sarangani – Environmental Conservation and Protection Center (ECPC) said that the team is conducting daily monitoring of whale shark sightings and documenting their behaviors.
“We are taking relevant data to better understand why they are here and contribute scientific information to better understand their biology. Gathered information will greatly help the drafting of ordinances for the conservation and protection of this endangered species,” Dr. Mejorada said.
Meanwhile, the task force through General Santos City Councilor Shandee O. Llido, Protected Area Superintendent (PASu) Joy C. Ologuin and PENRO Sarangani -Technical Services Division Chief, Dr. Rosalinda B. Cortez will be working on another ordinance declaring the General Santos City waters as a critical habitat of the whale sharks.
This is because of some alarming findings of the taskforce research team of some propeller injuries and some small wildlife deaths due to entanglement with fishing lines and nets.
The research team is headed by the PGO-ECPC, DENR XII, City ENRO and Protected Area Management Office of Sarangani Bay Protected Seascape (SPBS) together with Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, GSC Tourism Council, and volunteer environmental advocates.
Whale sharks are gentle giants identified by the unique spot patterns on their bodies and listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, from Vulnerable to Endangered.