A butanding (whale sharks) in the waters off Albay Gulf.
By MAR S ARGUELLES
LEGAZPI CITY: A total of 90 appearances of whale sharks have so far been recorded in the waters off Albay Gulf, some 30 meters from the shorelines of the Legazpi Boulevard, during the past two weeks, according to Bem Redito, city butanding interaction officer during an interview recently.
Redito said the presence of whale sharks was first noted during the first week of the month with six sighted, followed by another two in the second week.
The eight whale sharks, with measurements ranging from six meters to 13 meters long, have been frolicking along the shorelines of Legazpi Boulevard, bringing in hundreds of viewers daily since Feb. 2, he said.
Redito said that since their first appearance here, the gentle sea giants have attracted at least 40 foreign tourists from Europe, Germany, United States, Japan, Singapore, and Korea to watch and interact with the whale sharks.
Asked if these butandings came from the coastal waters of Donsol town in Sorsogon, Redito said the butandings in Legazpi appeared to be juvenile, or of younger age, which may not have come from Sorsogon, the whalesharks’ traditional habitat during summer, as he cite photo identification conducted recently by the WWF.
Tourism and business in this city have been on the upbeat for almost three weeks now since the gentle sea creatures’ first appearance here, actually the third time that the whalesharks had strayed along AlbayGulf, although this time they were of a relatively large number.
City Mayor Noel Rosal said in an interview that hundreds of local and foreign tourists have enjoyed watching the whalesharks swimming and frolicking along the shorelines of the Legazpi City Boulevard in the vicinity of the coastal villages of Dapdap, Puro and Lamba.
Rosal said that because of the influx of foreign and local visitors as well as local tourists, his office had issued an executive order providing for a code of conduct that seeks to regulate butanding interaction in the city.
Earlier, at least two butanding interaction officers and two boatmen were reprimanded and suspended for allowing foreign tourists to ride on the back of a whale shark in spite of the guidelines issued.
Rosal said the code of conduct is based on the guidelines laid down by the World Wildlife Fund which prohibits the practice of touching, riding on, and feeding the whale shark, restricting the movement of the whale shark, taking underwater photography with a flash, and using scuba apparatus, scooters, jet ski or any motorized underwater gadgets that disturb the gentle animals’ habitat.
Swimmers interacting with the butanding are allowed to swim along with the creature at a distance of four meters from the tail and three meters from the head and body.
Joan Encinares, the city tourism officer, said in an interview that in order to strictly enforce the code, they have trained and accredited 14 butanding boatmen as well as motor boats bearing white and red flags and the city government seal.
She said that under the guidelines, non-accredited sea crafts and boatmen will not be allowed to engage in any interaction activity or get near the whale shark.
Daily whale shark interaction will only be allowed from 7.30am to 3pm.
The city government also provides for the interaction fees, as follows: P1,000 per small boat for two guests and P1,500 for big boats to accommodate four or more guests, including a P100 registration fee, Encinares said.
Legazpi Boulevard is a major road network by the bay where business establishments such as restaurants, bistros,videoke bars, and refreshment parlors are located.
Chito Ante, city business consultant, in an interview said that incomes from businesses along the boulevard have been increasing as their operations went 24/7.
The presence of whale sharks in Albay Gulf has been attributed to the abundant supply of plankton that whalesharks eat, Rosal said.
Donsol town in Sorsogon used to be tagged by tourism authorities as the Butanding Capital of the country because of the presence there of whalesharks that measure as much as 14 meters in legth.
Butanding season traditionally covers the month of February until March every year where thousands of local and foreign visitors spend their holidays in Donsol town, some 47 kilometers from this city.
However, last year, butanding sightings in the coastal waters of Donsol dwindled because of the rising sea temperature due to climate change, stress, and lack of food.
Alan Amanse, Donsol BIO board chairperson, confirmed in an earlier interview that the rising sea temperature, stress, and decreasing plankton supply are the factors that cause the whale sharks to transfer to cooler areas where plankton supply are also abundant for their food.
That is why, he said, sightings of butanding in Donsol dropped from eight sightings in 2012 to only two during the first half of 2013, endangering the tourism industry of the town.
Amanse said sea temperature in their area rose from the ideal temperature range of 26 to 27 degrees to 29 to 30 degrees last year.
Currently, there are only two eight-meter long and two-meter wide whale sharks swimming off Donsol waters.
They are “Curly,” a butanding with curly dorsal fin, and “Lucky,” with a nylon cord tied on the tail.
“Walana ‘yongmgamalalaki measuring 14-meters long, and gone are the likes of the famous ‘Putol’ and ‘Nognog,’ Amanse said.
Another cause for their decreasing number in the town, he lamented, is too much stress inflicted on the whalesharks because of the many interaction events that the BIOs conducted during butanding sightings in Donsol town from May and December every year.
Rey Aquino, town councilor, claims that rampant gathering of plankton by fisherfolk for their own subsistence and ecoli contamination in Donsol river due to wastes from household toilets carelessly installed near the riverbanks contributed further to the loss of food supply (plankton) for the whalesharks that naturally have to find other food source that today can be found along Albay Gulf. - BicolMail