The community in Tan-Awan has been feeding whale sharks for years in the name of tourism.
This all started ten years ago when Jerson Soriano began to jump in the water with them. One of the resort owners saw this and asked the man to take his guests swimming with the sharks.
Soon after, other locals followed suit and started feeding the local whale sharks. This also led to the formation of an association of sea wardens.
Their responsibilities are to feed the whale sharks and take tourists to visit them.
Whale Shark Tourism
Whale sharks might be giants, but they are gentle and can’t bite. They are filter eaters and consume things such as lobster larva, coral, and small fish.
Since they have come to this town in the Philippines, their diets have changed. The locals and fishermen feed the whale sharks shrimp which they call “uyap”.
Hand feeding them daily has helped the whale sharks stay around while waiting for tourism to pick up again after covid.
Not only did the locals alter the whale sharks’ diet, but they have also changed their diving behaviour. Whale sharks are usually on the move and deep divers.
They are seen more on the surface in this town and are not migrating. Since they have to come to the surface to be hand-fed, they have more scarring on their bodies.
This is primarily due to kitting and scraping the bottom of boats and other vessels.
While other marine biologists are worried about the whale sharks’ safety, the locals say they love them and will not stop feeding them.
To some, like Lorene de Guzman, feeding the whale sharks has helped him build his home. His income tripled initially, but since the 2019 pandemic, he and other locals have been struggling.
They have been waiting patiently to get the tourists back so they can help the area boom again.
Stop the Feedings?
Due to the lack of tourism and money because of Covid-19, the crime in this town has increased. People are desperate for money and are willing to do anything to feed their families.
In 2019 they made over three million dollars in the area due to the whale shark hand-feedings.
While the locals see the whale sharks as their source of income and even family, World Wildlife Fund begs to differ. They are urging tourists to go elsewhere to see the sharks and stop the practice of feeding whale sharks.
What do you think, who is right in this case? Should they continue to feed the whale sharks hoping that tourism will pick up again and improve their lives?