Aga D. Eduarte
Donsol,Sorsogon, [05.14.14] – An unnamed Butanding Interaction Officer [BIO] together with some tourists were caught unaware by staff of The Philippine Examiner what went out of the sea and how they disregarded the whale shark interaction protocols during the opening of Butanding Festival 2014 in Donsol town last May 12, 2014.
The most glaring violations observed Monday, when five motorboats surrounded a juvenile a flagrant violations of Rule number 7. Divers from motorboats were permitted to dive simultaneously near the young whale shark.
Butanding Interaction Officers together with six other tourists swam very close near the whale shark while motor boats hamper the navigational route of the animal that tend to pass under the boat.
The local tourism office of Donsol must revisit the enshrined rules on whale shark interaction which they should implement the rules religiously, every time tourists go off the sea for whale shark interaction.
Brochures and hand-outs which were circulated with the code of conduct are spelled out clearly for safety and protection during the conduct of underwater whale shark interaction must serve as guide and proper guidance to the visiting tourists.
1.DO NOT TOUCH OR RIDE THE WHALE SHARK.
2.DO NOT RESTRICT THE MOVEMENT OF THE SHARK OR IMPEDE ITS NATURAL PATH.
3.THE RECOMMENDED DISTANCE FROM THE WHALE SHARK IS 3 METERS FROM THE TAIL.
4.DO NOT UNDERTAKE FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY.
5.DO NOT USE SCUBA SCOOTERS, JET-SKIS OR ANY MOTORIZED UNDERWATER PROPULSION.
6.A MAXIMUM OF SIX  SWIMMERS PER SHARK IS ALLOWED.
7.THERE MUST BE ONE BOAT PER WHALE SHARK.
Four out seven rules were clearly violated by the Butanding Interaction Officers [BIO’s], these are rules number 2,3,6 and 7 were never followed during our trip.
The Butanding Interaction Officers are supposed to police tourists including their ranks during interactions, but it was the other way around that transpired during the whale shark interaction yesterday.
Donsol Tourism Officer Mrs. Nenita Pedragosa remained unmindful of the discrepancy of what was written on their posters and brochures. In the brochure says that the divers must be three meters away from the head and body and four meters away from the tail.
However in the recently concluded opening of Butanding Festival, the local government of Donsol has a lot to be proven as far as the whale shark interaction is concern, by properly observing the rules set to protect both the safety of tourists and the population of these gentle giants.
Whale shark [Rhincodon typus] locally known as “butanding” is the biggest fish in the world and is among the top tourist attraction of Bicol region, after it was discovered that they had found its natural habitat off the municipal waters of Donsol.
The gentle giants, feeds on planktons and krills that flourish in the mouth of Donsol river.