BFAR expresses concern over death of giant whale near Sorsogon’s butanding sanctuary

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Whaleshark "Butanding". Photo courtesy Wikipilipinas.org
Whaleshark “Butanding”. Photo courtesy Wikipilipinas.org

By Danny O. Calleja

PILAR, Sorsogon, (5-Jan-2012/PNA) – The Bureau of fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) field office in Sorsogon has renewed its call for the protection of endangered marine wildlife in the province’s waters following the pre-New Year’s day death of a giant whale off the coastline of this municipality.

Record of the Philippine National Police (PNP) municipal office here have it that a whale, measuring 12 meters in length, two meters in body width and about five tons in weight, died when trapped inside a fish cage near the coastline of Barangay San Antonio last Dec. 30.

San Antonio barangay captain Tomas Guerrero Jr. reported the incident at 10 p.m. of the same day to the municipal police office headed by Senior Insp. Jaime Milleza who, along with a team of airborne operatives, rushed to scene to find the giant marine mammal dead inside the fish cage where it was accidentally trapped.

The incident was promptly reported to the BFAR provincial office based in Sorsogon City.

Its chief, Gil Ramos, immediately went to the area, along with provincial veterinarian Enrique Espiritu, to conduct investigations.

Espiritu identified the whale to be that of the giant sperm whale species scientifically named Physeter macrocephalus, which is the largest among whale genus.

It has teeth growing as much as 18.3 centimeters. It frequents Philippine waters.

While Ramos expressed appreciation for the residents’ prompt reporting to local authorities of the incident and not slaughtering the dead marine animal for its meat, he said on Friday that it was unfortunate that the whale died inside a man-made fish trap.

Setting up of a trap is a fishing practice being discouraged within the area covered by the protected measures being adopted for the preservation of the tourist-favorite whale sharks.

The municipal waters here adjoin the waters of Donsol town which is known as the Whale Shark Capital of the World.

Local authorities are implementing the Whale Shark Code of Conduct (WSCC) formulated to ensure the protection of the giant sea creatures as well as the safety of people, mostly tourists fascinated by having close underwater encounters with them.

The WSCC, apart from the “dos” and “don’ts” in dealing with the whale sharks, also carries with it the Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) in responding to standing incidents of the endangered giant marine mammal and similar species.

It discourages the establishment of structures like fish cages that would obstruct the free movement of these animals.

The protocol was put together during past conferences among representatives from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-Philippines, Fisheries Regional Emergency Stranding Response Team, Department of Tourism (DOT), Regional Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council (RFARMC) and the municipal government.

Ramos said that following the death of the giant whale, he coordinated with local authorities and fishermen’s groups in the nearby Donsol town to emphasize that since the SOP refers to “endangered giant marine mammals and similar species,” whales are included in the protective measures.

The waters of Pilar and Donsol share the nature’s gift of having the presence of these exotic species that offer breathtaking and rewarding experiences for tourists and divers coming to the area for a once-in-a-lifetime interaction with the world’s biggest fish that glides slowly but gracefully passes by within touching distance and impassive to the presence of the onlooker.

Thousands of divers from all over the world seek out this opportunity annually and since the ecotourism industry inspired by these sea animals, locally called “butandings,” was introduced in the area in 1998, both municipalities grew from being drowsy fishing and farming towns to top-class local government units (LGUs) with revenues derived from the multimillion-peso-a-year tourism trade.

Ramos said the death of the giant whale inside the fish trap should serve as a lesson as it could also happen to whale sharks.

“Our local authorities should now reconsider the provision of the WSCC that forbids the establishment of such structures,” he stressed.

Whales and butandings belong to closely related families.

The latter has earned the moniker “gentle giant of the ocean” while the former are also harmless to human and exciting to have interactions with, Ramos said.

“Let us also protect the whales as much as we protect the whale sharks,” he appealed to local authorities and fisherfolk. (PNA)

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