Whale shark feeding is a popular tourist attraction that draws hundreds of daily visitors to a small fishing village in the Philippines. While the attraction has helped to fuel the local economy, critics argue that the practice could be unhealthy for the animals and the environment.
The village of Tan-awan was rarely visited by tourists until local fishermen began feeding the whale sharks along the coastline on the island of Cebu. Fish and shrimp thrown into the water draw the giant creatures near, allowing tourists to snorkel and scuba dive among them.
As visitors shared videos of their experience across the internet, the tourist trade in Tan-awan started to grow.
The practice has created a vital source of income for residents of the poor community and a boost to its economy.
Whale sharks, known as the “gentle giants of the sea,” are the largest known extant species of fish. The largest on record measured in at 41.5 feet in length with a weight of over 47,000 pounds.
Whale sharks are considered to be extremely docile creatures. Posing virtually no threat to humans, the animals exist primarily on a diet of plankton, krill, and algae.
However, Tan-awan’s whale shark feeding has raised concerns among conservationists and biologists who worry the practice may eventually result in harm to both the creatures and the environment.
Physalus, an environmental group in Italy, has reportedly stated that it’s unnatural for so many of the creatures to congregate in one place on a regular basis.
“It looks like being in a zoo, a circus, looking at the animal walking up and down being fed,” explained Alessandro Ponzo, president of Physalus. “This is not a natural behavior that you see.”
Ponzo points out that the whale shark feeding attraction is not the same as being able to experience the creatures in their natural environment and encourages the exploitation of wildlife.
From a health standpoint, critics of the whale shark feeding worry about the spread of parasites or disease resulting from continual close contact between numerous whale sharks and tourists.
In addition, biologists are concerned that the daily tourist event could lead to a change in the whale sharks’ social behavior. They fear the animals may develop aggressive traits or begin competing against one another for nourishment.
You can watch the whale shark feeding attraction that’s causing controversy in the video below:
For the residents of Tan-awan, the whale shark feeding is an essential part of their financial livelihood. Aikie Lagahid, a 23-year-old fisherman working as a boatman and whale shark spotter, claims he earns “a lot of money.” He says the work is easier, and, after the morning whale shark feedings, he has time for afternoon basketball.
[Images via Wikipedia]