Donsol, a fishing town in Sorsogon province, serves
as a sanctuary to a group of 40 whale sharks, which are considered as
the largest fish in the world.
Locally known as "butanding", whale sharks visit the waters
of Donsol from November to May. Being migratory in nature, they travel
across the oceans, usually close to the equator. But nowhere else have
they been sighted in a larger group than in the waters of Sorsogon.
A group of Filipino divers documented the sighting of the whale sharks
in the waters of Poso, the southernmost barangay of Donsol on January
2, 1998. Picked up by television and the print media, the documentation
stirred the interest of many tourists, who started flocking in the fishing
In contrast to what their terrifying name seems to imply, whale sharks
(Rhincodon typus) are not really dangerous creatures. Tourists even
find them gentle and playful. They measure between 18 to 35 feet in
length and weigh about 20 tons. They are easily recognized for their
broad head and a random of white dots and lines along their backs.
Incapable of biting and chewing, they suck in water with prey, which
are filtered through their gills. Through their large mouth, lined with
thousands of tiny teeth, they feed on plankton, shrimp, anchovy, krill,
small crabs, and other small fish. In 1996, a marine biologist discovered
that whale sharks are ovoviviparous, which means that the female produces
live offspring from eggs hatched in the uterus.
There has been no report of whale sharks taking humans as prey. Rather,
it is the fishermen who have been hunting and plundering the stock of
whale sharks in the Philippines. Harpoon fishermen hunt these giants
to supply the high demand for the meat and medicinal by-products in
Considered as a delicacy and an aphrodisiac, whale sharks are being
bought by Taiwanese fishing firms and Hong Kong restaurant owners. There
were reports that a fully grown (more than 30 years old) whale shark
is worth as much as P400,000. The meat sells for HK$500 or P1,700 per
This led to the steady decline in the population of whale sharks in
the country. More than a hundred whale sharks were reportedly killed
in Donsol alone prior to the documentation in 1998. The situation is
worse in other provinces. The gentle giants were hunted to near extinction
off the central island of Bohol.
Alarmed by the problem, the Philippine government declared the whale
shark as an endangered species in 1998, thereby banning its plunder
and exploitation. Right now, the Department of Tourism is promoting
eco-tourism to protect the whale sharks in Donsol. Present conservation
measures allow tourist to interact with the whale sharks, with the help
of trained tour guides.
The whale shark interaction tours include swimming within four meters
of the sea giants, under the watchful eyes of the guides. So far, it
is the best the government can do to protect the whale sharks.