Whale Shark (Butanding) maltreatment in Boljoon and Oslob

For the information of many avid readers of this travel blog, a viral photo of a girl standing on top of a whale shark, locally known as “Butanding” (Tagalog) and “Tuki” (Visayan), in Boljoon (NOT Oslob) in Cebu, has been the topic on social networking websites recently. Boljoon and Oslob are two different municipalities but are next to each other. It is highly possible that some Butanding, who used to dwell in the waters near Oslob, decided to move to another place because they no longer eat “naturally”. Because it is one of the few times the people in Boljoon see this kind of creature, the residents near the shore decided to touch the stranded fish – one curious woman tried to use the animal as a “surfboard”. Now, the photos have caused an online outrage.

Girl standing on top of a Whale Shark

Girl standing on top of a Whale Shark

Many of those who saw the maltreatment of the Whale Shark on Facebook and Twitter are furious over the girl standing on top of the whale shark. They say it’s very cruel and hurtful to these gentle fishes. Later on, several photos surfaced on the internet showing a 3/31/2012, which signifies March 31, 2012, taken at about 7:30 in the morning.

Woman touching the back of the Butanding

Woman touching the back of the Butanding

Kids enjoying the Butanding

Kids enjoying the Butanding

Adults and Kids holding the Whale Shark

Adults and Kids holding the Whale Shark

Those who do not know the real score about this issue is making things worse by condemning the girl and the locals of what they did. Read on, to know more about the matter.

Before we conclude, let us all understand everything so we get all the facts right. If you think the information is incorrect, you can simply add a comment below so the administrator can revise the info as time goes by.

The “Whale Shark Watching and Feeding” in Cebu became a popular activity early this year after foreigners discovered that Butanding’s exists in the southern part of the island. The town of Oslob, a three-hour bus ride from Cebu City, is the first to take advantage of these gentle giants. Late last year, after several popular news and information sites shared photos of these Whale Sharks, the tourism of Oslob significantly went up. Before, only the old structures and beaches of Oslob are the main tourist attractions of the province until the discovery of the Butanding.

Boljoon and Oslob Map

Boljoon and Oslob Map

According to locals, they have already seen these “Tuki” for a long time but did not know it can give them money until recently. They used to swim with these gentle creatures while holding the its back. They feed them with shrimps and bring them to the shallow area so the other folks can see the Whale Shark up-close.

Today, the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Oslob with the help of the Provincial Government is constantly safeguarding these Whale Sharks because it is income generating and it is the window to other tourist spots in the municipality.

In SoloFlightEd.com’s Whale Shark encounter last December 2011, he was only inches away from the creature and can easily touch them because nobody is watching him. Now that the LGU is constantly taking care of these large fishes, they impose a strict rule for everyone to follow.

Whale Shark Code of Conduct

– Do not attempt to touch, ride, or chase a Whale Shark
– Do not restrict normal movement or behavior of the Shark
– Maintain a minimum distance of 3 meters from the Whale Shark
– Do not undertake flash photography
– Do not use motorized-underwater diver propulsions

Whale Shark watching rules

Whale Shark watching rules

The viral photo of a girl riding the Butanding and locals ignorantly touching it taken in the nearby town of Boljoon, about two and a half hour-bus ride from the “Queen City of the South”, is a hot topic this warm summer season.

Happy to touch a Whale Shark

Happy to touch a Whale Shark

Rope tied on the tale of the Whale Shark

Rope tied on the tale of the Whale Shark

If you look closely on the images, the Butanding was tied in the tail with a rope – so the other people living nearby can see the huge fish – before they set it free. The shallow water near the shore is certainly not an area where this big animal is comfortable.

Efforts to educate the locals on how to deal with such situations are being organized by the concerned people. The local government of Oslob and Boljoon are now getting a lot of calls from worried authorities, who are knowledgeable on how to handle these creatures.

Many of the people in the town of Boljoon and Oslob, about 90 kilometers from the island’s main city, earn from agriculture and selling fishes. Only a few have the luxury of owning a camera, computer and other electronic devices such as TV and radio that will inform them of what is happening in their surroundings.

There are people living in these municipalities that can help in educating the residents, especially the fishermen, about the big no-no with these Whale Sharks. The problem is that we have to reach them if they do not know what is happening in their community. One of the fastest ways to let them know about our feelings towards these folks in the images above is to share these photos until it reaches the authorities. Many concerned groups are contacting the Provincial Government of Cebu and the Municipal Government of Oslob and Boljoon so the residents will be informed and future incidents will not happen.

If you have a Facebook account, chances are you have already seen these images on your stream but it will make a huge difference if we all share this page to our friends.

Bosconian Kurt Christian Penafort, a Call Center employee, shared the photo on his wall and worriedly asked, “What are those guys thinking?”

Kurt Christian Penafort

Kurt Christian Penafort

Ronald Allan, an Engineer in Celestica Thailand, is apprehensive of what will happen to the Butanding. Shared the photo of the girl standing on top of the huge creature, he said “fools!!!” on April 1, during the celebration of April Fool’s Day.

Ronald Allan

Ronald Allan

Sinjin Pineda, an Explorer & Travel Blogger, also shared his concern on the Butanding.

Sinjin Pineda

Sinjin Pineda

According to one of the descriptions in a set of images posted at “Stop Whale Shark Feeding in Oslob, Cebu, Philippines” Facebook Page, “These are recent pictures of a stranded Whale Shark in Balitang, Boljoon, a municipality next to Oslob. The Shark was stranded in the shallows and instead of helping it swim back to the ocean, the crowd touches it and some even stood on top of it like some sort of a ride. We can probably expect more of these incidents because the Sharks are getting used to the feeding. There’s no telling when the other negative effects will hit us, especially those that are far beyond our comprehension, unless we put an end to the practice.” The page is getting a sudden increase in members because of its effort to stop the feeding of these gentle giants. It strongly believes there are negative effects of feeding Whale Sharks. In one of its notes it stated, “Feeding the poor people or even stray dogs is one noble cause that could sure make a difference. But in the case of the Sharks, feeding them is nothing more than hurting an entire ecosystem. Sharks like the Whale Sharks in Oslob, Cebu are not pets and are far from being domestic, this is why making them dependent could physically hurt them as well as creating a negative impact to the rest of the Ocean’s biodiversity. These Sharks play an important role in the Ocean and they should be left on their own to feed themselves naturally, their need to feed is attached to a series of webs that connected these giant fish with the rest of the Ocean and other inhabitants. If you remove them by luring them to the shallows, you are actually removing a key player of the Ocean’s Game of life and it will have a series of negative effect to the rest of the animals that interacts with these creatures.”

What the locals did in Boljoon was purely out of ignorance. Because it is a rare incident, they probably thought it is OK to ride and touch the large fish. Unlike most of us who has a Facebook account and read many things every day, these people are not yet enlightened that this is a punishable offense. Yes, most of us know the quote: “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse” but what if it was you, who saw that huge creature that does not attack humans for the first time, would you touch it? Have you tried chasing a fish? Have you tried holding your fish from your aquarium when you changed it with clean water?

Many of us know that the Butanding are a huge part of the tourism of the Philippines. Donsol in Sorsogon is popular with these creatures and they are the first that took advantage of it by offering their “Whale Shark Watching” activity. Before Sorsogon was informed on how to take care of these Whale Sharks, many also touched and ride them – but Social Media is not as popular several years ago. Now that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have become a part of the lives of many and we know that the Butanding is slowly becoming extinct, we have been very vocal with our comments even if we do not know the real situation. Everyone agrees that what the locals did is injurious to the Butanding but who are we to blame them if they do not have any idea that what they did is harmful? If you are an angler and it was the first time you saw a huge fish, would you try to catch it and show it to your neighbors? Would you think it is just a huge dolphin were you can ride at the back and swim with him?

It is very sad that we all saw these pictures. Many of us say they are heartless and the authorities must seize the people in the picture. This is probably the first time we saw such incident because we now have a social media account.

For sure, this is not the first time it happened in the country. Now is the time that we can easily reach the government so they can inform their constituents and implement the rules. If we all share these images, the local and national government will act fast. Efforts to save these Gentle Giants will be imminent and we will all have a lighter heart, thinking that future generations can still see these awe-inspiring creations of God.

This page is last updated on Apr 2, 2012 @ 8:30 pm
About the author
Mark Anthony Maranga Mark Anthony Maranga is a Web Designer based in Cebu, Philippines. He sells Balloons and Party Supplies in Mandaue City, Cebu and explores the Philippines tourist attractions. During his free time he take pictures and write blogs. Check his website design portfolio and know more about him.

  1. Barney Tade says:

    The fisher folks of Oslob and other coastal areas are now trying to preserve their god given resources for people to see and enjoy as alternative form of livelihood. Much better than eating the whale sharks and other marine resources to extinction. Use endangered species as attraction and and sight to behold and people will stop eating or killing them.

  2. MJ Blancaflor says:

    hindi po magandang halimbawa ito! endangered specie na po ang butanding. hindi po ba nila alam na ito nakasasama sa biodiversity?

    God bless po

  3. Raymund says:

    The public must be educated about the importance of these marine animals and also the do’s and don’ts when these animals are encountered.

  4. At least they have not killed it for food (yet)
    You cannot call these people names…they have no idea about our norms and preserving wildlife…the income of the local people has gone through the roof since this all happened, so if you are concerned, come and stay at the 3 resorts owned by foreigners (for comfort) and help us educate them! Yes, 95% of all Filipinos SPEAK and/or UNDERSTAND ENGLISH !!

  5. Perhaps the local officials, particularly the elements of the Bantay Dagat units of Boljoon were busy with something else. Early electioneering perhaps? This is where the failure of local governments come to the fore when incidents of utmost urgency need their attention, but their conspicuous absence from the scene just can’t be ignored. It’s high time the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources conducts training and seminars for the proper handling of sea creatures like the butanding and create awareness, so that incidents like these need not put our country in a bad light.

  6. Andreas says:

    Excellent post. Whalesharks attract tourists, and tourists will most likely demand appropriate treatment of the Butanding. For the maximum economic benefit for the local communities from the presence of their Butanding, the regional authorities will in time most likely emulate the model of Donsol, with interaction rules and BIOs. Given that apparently the discovery of the Butanding here is fairly recent, one has to give them credit for their ignorance, and time to get things organized like in Donsol, where surely things weren’t perfect when the Butanding were first discovered there. So the outrage at the images is, on the one hand, somewhat unjustified, but on the other hand will help spur the necessary education and development. I agree with Mark in his expectation of authorities acting soon.

    Cheers from Andreas, a recent visitor to Donsol.

  7. Freek says:

    Leave that animal alone!!
    Don’t touch it or come to close!!!
    And the biggest fools are the ones who tied it!!!

    Greetings from Europe: Freek

  8. Elizabeth Oropesa says:

    I cried when I saw the pictures. I am a scuba diver, I went to Oslob to see for myself the way they are treating the whale sharks. Small boats with so many people would unintentionally hit the butandings with their fins because they are too close. They do not have BIO (Butanding Interaction Officers) like Donsol, which is very organized. Divers are more gentle and knows how to interact with these gentle giants. If it was up to me, I would rather they allow divers only. The Philippine Government should assign somebody knowledgeable enough to help the creatures and to educate the people. The person that will be assigned should be able to check all the concerned areas with butanding. I was told that Kris Aquino was there when I went. I hope she saw what was happening.

  9. ed gunz says:

    simply ignorance.

  10. rene hoylar says:

    talagang maltreatment nga. . . okeey nalang kay nagsory

  11. TheFrugalWanderer says:

    You got a good point of view. Thank you for this post.

  12. makoy says:

    this was taken at balitang, boljoon. not oslob.

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