Locals, biologists face off over Philippine whale shark feeding

Photo by Marian Z. Codilla

Photo by Marian Z. Codilla


By David Loh – Tan-awan, in the southern Philippines island of Cebu, used to be a sleepy village that never saw tourists unless they were lost or in transit. Yet now they flock there by the hundreds – to swim with whale sharks, the world’s largest fish.

Whale sharks are lured to the Tan-awan coastline of the Oslob district by fishermen who hand feed them small shrimp, drawing divers and snorkelers to see the highly sought-after animals, known as gentle giants of the sea.

But the practice has sparked fierce debate on the internet and among biologists, who decry it as unnatural.

“Some people are asking that we stop feeding, but if we stop feeding, what is our livelihood?” said Ramonito Lagahid, vice chairman of the Tan-awan Oslob Sea Warden and Fishermen Association (TOSWFA). “We have to go back to fishing.”

Though whale sharks as large as 12.7 meters (42 feet) and a weight of more than 21.5 tons (47,400 lbs) have been confirmed, they feed mainly on algae, plankton and krill. Contrary to their name, the animals are docile and pose no risk to humans.

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