SEA LIFE IN THE PHILIPPINES; WHALE SHARKS, SEA SHELLS, CORAL AND DYNAMITE FISHING

CORAL REEFS AND FISH IN THE PHILIPPINES

Compared to many other countries, "the diversity of the Philippine coral reefs is still quite in the upper level.” About 500 coral species are found in the Philippines. Of the eight species of marine turtles worldwide, five are reported to be found in Philippine waters: the Green Turtle, Hawkbill, Leatherback, Olive Ridley, and Loggerhead. A French-led research team identified some 1,200 different species of crabs and shrimps and around 6,000 mollusk species in the waters off Panglao, many of them not previously known to science, in the Bohol Sea. Together the Philippines and Indonesia embrace 21,000 islands and nearly one-fifth of the world's coral reefs and 77 percent of the Southeast Asia’s 100,000 square kilometers of coral reefs.

The marine environments around the Philippines are incredibly diverse. The world's second deepest spot underwater is in the Philippines. This spot, about 34,440 feet (10,497 meters) below the sea level, is known as the Philippine Deep or the Mindanao Trench. The Philippine Deep is in the floor of the Philippine Sea. The German ship Emden first plumbed the trench in 1927.

Thirty-four kinds of endemic fish are found in Philippine reefs. The fish include the aptly named psychedelic fish. The most mangrove species in the world and the most bio-diverse reef systems are found in Philippine waters. The Philippines is the only place in the world with glass sponges, which have remained virtually unchanged for 375 million years.

The largest fish in the world, the whale shark, locally known as Butanding, regularly swims in the Philippine waters. The world’s shortest and lightest freshwater fish is the dwarf pygmy goby (Pandaka Pygmaea), a colorless and nearly transparent species found in the streams and lakes of Luzon. Males have an average length of 8.7 mm. and weigh 4-5 mg. Groupers have been dangerously overfished in the Philippines. The Philippines has established reserves for fish.

Coral Triangle

The Coral Triangle is a marine region that spans parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste with at least 500 species of reef-building corals. Seventy-six percent (605) of the world’s coral species (798) are found in the Coral Triangle, the highest coral diversity in the world. The Coral Triangle has 15 regionally endemic coral species (species found nowhere else in the world), and shares 41 regional endemic species with Asia. Certain neighbouring countries, including Australia and Fiji, contain rich coral biodiversity as well, but with somewhat lower numbers. [Source: WWF]

The Coral Triangle encompasses portions of 2 biogeographic regions: the Indonesian-Philippines Region, and the Far Southwestern Pacific Region. The epicenter of that coral diversity is found in the Bird’s Head Peninsula of Indonesian Papua, which hosts 574 species (95 percent of the Coral Triangle, and 72 percent of the world’s total). Within the Bird’s Head Peninsula, the Raja Ampat archipelago is the world’s coral diversity bull’s eye with 553 species.

The Coral Triangle has more coral reef fish diversity than anywhere else in the world: 37 percent (2,228) of the world’s coral reef fish species (6,000), and 56 percent of the coral reef fishes in the Indo-Pacific region (4,050). Eight percent (235 species) of the coral reef fishes in the Coral Triangle are endemic or locally restricted species. Within the Coral Triangle, four areas have particularly high levels of endemism (Lesser Sunda Islands, Papua New Guinea – Solomon Islands, Bird’s Head Peninsula, and the Central Philippines). Six of the world's 7 marine turtle species, including the leatherback marine turtle, found in places such as the Northern Bird's Head Peninsula / Waigeo region, Papua (Indonesia), as well as Lea region (Papua New Guinea), New Georgia (Solomon Islands).

The Coral Triangle is frequented by the blue whale, the largest animal to ever live on Earth. Other Coral Triangle whales include the sperm whale (found throughout Coral Triangle waters and the Savu Sea, especially Solor-Alor region), dolphins, porpoises, and the endangered dugong.

The main criteria used by scientists and conservationists to delineate the Coral Triangle were: High species biodiversity (more than 500 coral species, high biodiversity of reef fishes, foraminifera, fungid corals, and stomatopods) and habitat diversity The Coral Triangle supports livelihoods and provides income and food security, particularly for coastal communities. Resources from the area directly sustain more than 120 million people living in the area.

The Coral Triangle’s economic value is nothing short of phenomenal: 1) Tuna spawning and nursery grounds support a multi-billion dollar tuna industry and supply millions of consumers worldwide. 2) Marine resources contribute to a growing nature-based tourism industry, valued at over US$12 billion annually. The Coral Triangle is part of an area that has emerged as one of the planet’s economic hubs. Fast population and economic growth have fuelled unsustainable coastal development and boosted demand for expensive marine resources such as tuna, shark fin, turtle products and live reef fish.

Exotic Creatures Found in ‘Coral Triangle’

In October 2007, U.S. and Philippine scientists announced they had discovered a number of new marine species in the Coral Triangle, regarded as world's most biologically diverse region. Oliver Teves of Associated Press wrote: “Larry Madin, who led the Inner Space Speciation Project in the Celebes Sea south of the Philippines, said scientists had been to one of the world's deep-ocean basins in search of organisms that may have been isolated there for millions of years.

Madin, of the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, or WHOI, said the Celebes Sea is at the heart of the "coral triangle" bordered by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia — a region recognized by scientists as having the greatest degree of biological diversity of the coral reef community of fish and other marine life. [Source: Oliver Teves, Associated Press, October 16, 2007]

“The deepest part of the Celebes Sea is 16,500 feet (5,000 meters). The team was able to explore to a depth of 9,186 feet (2,800 meters) using a remotely operated camera. "This is probably the center where many of the species evolved and spread to other parts of the ocean, so it's going back to the source in many ways," he told a group of journalists, government officials, students and U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney and her staff.

Madin led the project that involved WHOI and National Geographic Magazine in cooperation with the Philippine government, which also provided the exploration ship. The team speon Tuesday after spending about two weeks in the Celebes Sea off Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines’ southernmost provincial archipelago, about 687 miles (1,100 kilometers) south of Manila.

Madin said they had collected about 100 different specimens, including several possibly newly discovered species. One was a sea cucumber that is nearly transparent which could swim by bending its elongated body. Another was an unusually black jellyfish that was found near the bottom of the sea. But the most striking creature they found was a spiny orange-colored worm that had 10 tentacles like a squid, he said.

Madin said the Celebes Sea, being surrounded by islands and shallow reefs, is partially isolated from the rest of the world's oceans and may have been more isolated millions of years ago, leading scientists to believe that "there may be groups of organisms that have been contained and kept within" the basin since then. "That makes it an interesting place to go and look to see what we might find," he said.

Pearls, Seahorses and the Tropical Fish Trade in the Philippines

Turbaned Moros islanders used to make their living as pearl divers. When the Japanese learned how to culture pearls they found themselves out of a job. These divers today make a living by collecting sea shells. Some of them still use they same wooden goggles they have used for centuries. ┭

The world's largest pearl was discovered by a Filipino diver in a giant clam in the Palawan Sea in 1934. Known as the "Pearl of Lao-Tzu", the gem weighs 14 pounds and measures 9½ inches in length long and 5½ inches in diameter. As of May 1984, it was valued at US$42 million. It is believed to be 600 years old.

A good portion of the fish caught in the Philippines are sent live to Hong Kong fish markets or aquarium fish distributors in the United States. The Philippines is a major supplier for the sea-water aquarium trade. According to some estimates it supplies 30-50 percent of the fish for the pet industry. Clownfish and neon gobis from the Philippines are now raised in fish farms in the Bahamas. Some of the local people that catch fish for the pet trade use tiny nets and fins made of plywood and old tires.

The Philippines, Thailand and India are the largest exporters of seahorses, which are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. Among the most peculiar creatures in the water, seahorses are small saltwater fish belonging to the Syngnathidae family (order Gasterosteiformes), which also includes pipefish and sea dragons. There are at least 50 known seahorse species in the world. They inhabit temperate and tropical waters but most of them are concentrated in the warm coastal waters of the Philippines. Most seahorse species live in the Coral Triangle.

Damaged Coral Reefs and Dynamite Fishing in the Philippines

Nearly all the reefs around the Philippines show a high rate of damage. It is estimated that 90 percent of the reefs around the Philippines have been damaged by sedimentation, explosives, agricultural run-off, toxic chemical and pollution, cyanide fishing and souvenir hunting. Some divers from China have inscribed their names graffiti-style on heads of coral. The reefs not only lack fish they also lack coral. Fewer than 10 percent of Indonesia's reefs are in pristine condition. The same figure in the Philippines is less than 5 percent.

Pressure from fishing fleets and marine tourism jeopardizes the Philippines’ vast underwater gardens. "There are types of corals that grow about 10 centimeters in one year. So for example, you throw an anchor at a coral garden and you destroyed two square meters. It takes five to 10 years to get it to grow back," on conservationist told AFP.

Fisherman in the Philippines have used dynamite and homemade explosive concocted from fertilizer and kerosene to stun fish and make them easier to catch. Huge chunks of reef have been blown off of reefs in waters off the Philippine island of Cebu by dynamite charges used to kill fish. Commented on the lack of sea life in waters where he fished, one fisherman from Zambales told Time, "In the past flying fish jumped over the prow of fishing boats heading out to sea. Now there is no longer such a spectacle. Aside from the waves, the sea appears calm and it is almost scary.”

Filipino spear fishermen are often breath from tubes hooked up to air compressors abroad a small boat. Fishermen also use illegal fine mesh nets that trap uneatable young as well as adults.

Cyanide Fisherman

Fishermen in some parts of the world, particularly the Philippines and Indonesia, catch fish by squirting cyanide from plastic bottles into crevasses in the reef. The cyanide temporarily stuns the fish so they can be easily captured by hand or with small nets, often using a crowbar to pry apart the reef where the fish hide. Fisherman in the Philippines cover their faces like terrorists for protection from jellyfish stings and can stay underwater for long periods of time thanks to hoses attached to an air compressor known as a "hookah." The poison initially does not normally harm the fish but it hurts the living coral. Fishermen also use bleach and other chemicals to get fish.

Sodium cyanide capsules are cheap and easy to obtain in Asia. All one has to do create cyanide is crush a couple of these capsules and put the powder into a spray bottle of water . Cyanide fishermen then dive around a coral reef, find they fish they want and squirt the toxic mixture in it face or skirt it in an area of the reef teeming with fish. Fishermen often store the cyanide in cans on the ocean floor to escape detection by authorities.

Long-lasting cyanide kills fish, coral polyps and other forms sea life. The cyanide kills the algae of the reef on which fish feed. Then the coral itself starts to die. Cyanide fishing is also harmful to fisherman who handle the cyanide and have to search in deeper and deeper water to find fish. Recalling his fifth experience with the bends, one Filipino cyanide fishermen told National Geographic, "I went down 70 meters [230 feet] and worked for about two hours. I came straight up. A minute after I got in the boat, I went into shock." He has been paralyzed from the waist down ever since. One in ten cyanide divers either dies or is disabled.

Cyanide Fishing in the Philippines

Many fish sold live from the Philippines for restaurants and aquariums are gathered using cyanide. The practice began in the 1960ss and reached in peak in the early 1990s when 330,000 pounds of poison was placed on 33 million coral heads a year. The practice is said to have been invented in 1957 by a Chinese-Filipino businessman named Earl Kennedy who learned from aquaculturists that cyanide can be used to stun fish. After experimented in saltwater lagoons in Luzon, he began exporting angelfish and triggerfish to the West and by the 1960s was the world's leading exporter of tropical fish.

Men head out from towns like Siasi an Pangutaran in Sulu province in motorized outrigger boats with enough food and water for up to two weeks. When going after fish such as grouper they breath through tubes attached to a compressor. Grouper are found in reefs between 10 meters and 30 meters deep. They spread a solution of sodium cyanide and saltwater from a plastic tube. After a few minutes they have stunned and netted several fish. The fish are then placed in a submerged net attached to the boat. After about 20 minutes the fish spring back to life and are able to swim around normally. [Source: Anthony Spaeth, June 3, 1996]

Back on shore the fish are placed in holding pens. They are kept there for a couple of weeks until the cyanide is naturally flushed from their system and then sold to middlemen, who place them on trawlers with tanks or in seawater-filled bags bound for Asian restaurants. The middlemen often supply the fishermen with nets and cyanide

Environmental groups are trying to convince the fishermen in some places to replace dynamite and cyanide fishing with more environmentally friendly methods of fishing and fishing stocks have rebuonded. Fishermen assisted by the Marine Aquarium Council use environmentally friendly methods to catch fish and earn three times more than they did using cyanide, because fish that are guaranteed to be cyanide free fetch a higher price.

Coral Reef Conservation in the Philippines

Holger, Horn a former German army officer who runs a popular diving resort in Panglao on Bohol island, told AFP: "When I came here four years ago dynamite fishing was rampant And as you know diving and dynamite fishing do not belong together. So I started to fight back." Horn is now a board member of the Bohol Islands Marine Triangle program, funded by the UN Development Programme to conserve the marine life of Bohol Sea. [Source: AFP, May 8, 2005 |+|]

"In the beginning nobody cared. Then I took over to care for the reefs and now you can see great areas of improvement. It's really wonderful to see how nature is rebuilding," Horn told AFP. From the start, conservation was an alien concept to many residents, who have fished the sea for generations. "But the perception has changed," he says, a point driven home by the reality of declining catches. "Look at them today, the marginal fishermen. They come back with a handful of fish and they can't even feed their families," he says. |+|

AFP reported: “The government has restricted fishing in shallow waters to small fishermen, set up community-based marine sanctuary projects, and encouraged marine tourism including scuba diving and whale watching. Some 15,000 scuba divers visit Panglao and the nearby islands every year, drawn by 18 established dive sites in the area. |+|

"I found out that the Philippines has great laws, rules and regulations and ordinances but they really lack implementation,” Horn said. One reason, he says is that these laws are foreign to many residents. "You are dealing here with people who spent one or sometimes three years in elementary school, and sometimes they don't even know how to write properly. So how do you make them understand that these ordinances are so important?" |+|

"Our base for an effective tourism industry is the coral reefs. So if we don't have intact coral reefs, the resorts can't (attract tourists) and will have to close down," he says. Within the project site, only traditional means of fishing are now allowed. Permanent buoys are planned so vessels would stop using destructive anchors in the protected site. The Bohol Islands Marine Triangle board is supervising a zoning survey to delineate which areas to declare as sanctuaries, fishing areas, tourism sections or navigational corridors. Also planned are a user-fee scheme under which every scuba diver would be charged 50 pesos (about 92 US cents), and boats that damage corals by indiscriminately dropping anchors would be fined. Proceeds would pay for fish wardens to guard the sanctuaries and support communities involved in the project. |+|

“The Panglao municipal council also passed an ordinance requiring new restaurants or hotels to put up proper waste disposal systems. Horn says Panglao is learning its lessons from Boracay, another world-famous island resort in the central Philippines that hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons a few years back due to E. coli bacteria infection of the water. |+|

Sea Shells in the Philippines

With its thousands of reefs, islands, channels and different marine habitats, the Philippines is considered a mecca for sea shell collectors. The Indo-Pacific region contain the world's most diverse offering of shells and within this vast region the Philippines has greatest variety. The best hunting grounds are said to be around the islands in the Sulu Sea and an area know as the Camotes Sea off of Cebu. [Source: Paul Zahl Ph.D., National Geographic, March 1969 [┭];

Filipino islanders eat about every kind of shell animal imaginable except for the large white cowrie which doesn't taste very good. Some people eat deadly poisonous cone snails as a delicacy.

Russia's Catherine the Great and Francis I, husband of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, were both avid shell collector. One of their most prized possessions was a 2½ inch precious wentletrap from the Philippines. In the 18th century these shells sold for $20,000 in today's money. ┭

There are 12,000 or so species of seashells in the Philippines. Both the Tridacna gigas, one of the world's largest shells, and Pisidum, the world's tiniest shell, can be found in Philippine waters. Tridacna gigas grows as large as one meter in length and weighs 300 kilograms while Pisidum is less than 1 millimeter long. Of the eight known species of giant clams in the world, seven are found in the Philippines. The nautilus an other primeval creatures are most often around Palau and the Philippines.

Rare Sea Shells in the Philippines

Among the rarest and most sought after of all shells are coweries, a great variety of which are found in the Philippines. These single-shelled mollusks with a zipper-like opening on the bottom come with dazzling variety of colors and markings. Some look like they have the milky way imprinted on the their backs. Others looked eggs with hundred of lip-stick smudges. Money cowries are still used as currency in some places. Fisherman often attach them to their nets for good luck and brides are sometimes given them to promote fertility. One of the rarest shells is the world is spotted Leucodon cowries. Only three of them are known to exist in the world, one of which was found in the stomach of a fish. ┭

Even rarer still is the Conus gloriamaris, the beautiful “glory of the seas,” considered to be one of the rarest and most expensive shells in the world. "This regal shell," says biologist Paul Zahl, "with its tapered spire and its elegant color patterns reticulated like the finest needlework, satisfies both the artist's requirement of exceptional beauty and the collector's demand for exceptional rarity...Before 1837 only half a dozen were known to exist. In that year famous British collector, Hugh Cuming, visiting a reef near Jagna, Bohol Island..turned over a small rock, and found two, side by side. He recalled that he nearly fainted with delight. When the reef vanished after an earthquake, the world believed that only habitat of gloriamaris had disappeared forever." The shell was so famous that a Victorian novel was written with plot revolving around the theft of one, and real specimen in fact really stolen from the American Museum of Natural History in 1951. ┭

The most interesting shells include the Giant Pacific triton, which some people make into trumpets. The triumphant star layers eggs with long prongs and the Venus comb looks like a skeleton. The strong translucent shells of the windowpane oyster are sometimes substituted for glass. At one time lamps and windchimes made from these yellowish shells were very fashionable. Filipino fisherman used to dredge these shells up by the thousands to meet the world demand. ┭

Sea Snakes in the Philippines

Sea snakes belong to the Family Hydrophiidae. They differ in appearance from other snakes in that they have an oar-like tail and laterally compressed bodies to aid in swimming. Sea snakes are air breathers and must surface to breathe. A specialized lung and nostrils with valves enable sea snakes to remain submerged for periods of up to 8 hours. Most sea snakes are completely marine and lack the enlarged ventral scales that enable land snakes to grip the ground. Once ashore, these ocean-going snakes are helpless, and cannot crawl. Generally, sea snakes are not aggressive. They are not thought to strike humans unless provoked, nor do they typically actively pursue swimming prey. However, there are species that may bite if they are stepped on or handled roughly. Species include the Lake Taal snake (Hydrophis semperi), pelagic sea snake (Pelamis platurus), yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina), Stoke’s seasnake (Astrotia stokesii). [Source: U.S. Army, Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine (Usachppm) Entomological Sciences Program, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland]

All sea snakes have fixed fangs and potent venom. Stoke’s sea snakes have fangs that are capable of penetrating a wetsuit. Some species of sea snakes have venom that is several times more toxic than the cobra’s. Fortunately, only small amounts of venom are usually injected, so fatalities are rare. The most serious bites involve multiple serrated-edged lacerations which may result in death from respiratory, heart, or kidney failure. The venom of sea snakes is painless and only small amounts of venom are usually injected. Fatalities are rare. The more serious bites involve multiple serrated-edged lacerations that produce muscle stiffness, difficulties in speaking and swallowing, flu-like symptoms and muscular paralysis. Antivenin is available which can neutralize the effects of the venom of most species of cobras. No species specific antivenins are produced for sea snakes.

The Philippines have one of the highest densities of sea snake populations in the world and these marine reptiles are commonly encountered in both the inshore and offshore waters throughout the archipelago. One species of sea snake, the Lake Taal snake, is the only known species to have adapted to fresh water, and lives in a flooded volcanic caldera on Luzon. The greatest numbers of sea snakes are found in warm, shallow waters, without strong surf or current, along coastlines. The mouths of rivers, bays, and mangrove swamps are especially favored. They thrive in a variety of habitats, ranging from muddy or turbid water to clear waters and coral reefs. Many species of sea snakes enter brackish or freshwater occasionally. Some species of sea snakes that inhabit the deeper ocean waters are only rarely found close to shore, when wind or currents cause beach strandings.

Whale Shark Watching Festival in the Philippines

Swimming with whale sharks has been a popular tourist activity since 1998, when the animals were discovered in the area around Donsol, a fishing town in Sorsogon province, which serves as a sanctuary to a group of 40 whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), the largest fish in the world. Locally known as "butanding", whale sharks visit the waters of Donsol from November to May. They travel across the oceans but nowhere else have they been sighted in a larger group than in the waters of Sorsogon. They measure between 18 to 35 feet in length and weigh about 20 tons.

The municipality of Donsol hosts a month-long festival in April to honor the whale shark – and give thanks to it for additional jobs and livelihood derived from local and foreign visitors’ interaction tours with the “gentle giants”. During the Butanding Festival, the local people and visitors participate in a celebration, which culminates with a regatta exhibition and maritime parade consisting of more than 50 boats with banners and giant images of the butanding along the Donsol River. There is also a street parade along the town’s main thoroughfares consisting of life-size images of the butandings on floats accompanied by village (barangay) delegations, brass bands, drum and bugle corps, and the festival street-dancing contingent winners from other Bicol provinces. Life-size whale shark made of bamboo and rice sack cloth are paraded during whale shark festival . [Source: jurgenfreund.com]

Whale Sharks Feeding Attracts Tourists, Money and Controversy

In 2013, David Loh of Reuters wrote: “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. [Source: David Loh, Reuters, March 12, 2103, March 13, 2013 */*]

“'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.' Lagahid says there have always been whale sharks in Tan-awan. He remembers seeing them even when he was young. 'They are always around when we go out at night to collect uyap,' he said, referring to a kind of small shrimp that the whale sharks are fed. 'Many times we have to stop fishing because the whale sharks are around.' */*

“The whale shark 'interaction area' is the size of a soccer field, some 80 metres off the beach, and feeding takes place from 6am to 1pm. Eight to 10 whale sharks show up on average, but some mornings see as many as 20. Word about the whale sharks got out globally ago via Internet postings from witnesses, and tourists began flocking to the village both from the Philippines and around the world. Most days see several hundred, but 2012 numbers peaked with 1,642 on Good Friday in 2012. */*

“Fees for foreign tourists range from 500 pesos ($12.29) to just watch the whale sharks, to 1,500 pesos - plus normal scuba diving charges - to dive with them. The money is pooled and each villager who works that day, as a guide or boat driver, receives 1,000 to 1,500 pesos - a good fee for the rural Philippines. The results are clear. Many new brick houses line the short stretch of road leading to the feeding beach. 'It is easier working in the whale shark area. I can earn a lot of money', said Aikie Lagahid, 23, Ramoncito's nephew and a fisherman who now works as a whale shark spotter and boatman. 'In the morning we take the guests out, and in the afternoon, we play basketball.' */*

“Tourists are delighted as well. 'It (the whale shark) is really big, so it was really an experience,' said Cecilia Buguis, a Philippine tourist. 'I would definitely tell my friends about it. But not everybody is thrilled. Biologists, in particular, are afraid that the feeding will create long-term problems. It is very rare, according to Italy-based environmental group Physalus, to have so many whale sharks in such a small area so regularly. Feeding from a boat close to humans is also extremely unnatural. 'It looks like being in a zoo, a circus, looking at the animal walking up and down being fed. This is not a natural behaviour that you see,' said Alessandro Ponzo, the president of Physalus. 'The experience that you have ... is not the same as when you see them in the wild, in their natural environment. What you learn here is that wild life is (fine) to be exploited as a tourism attraction.' */*

“Biologists fear that the situation could lead the whale sharks to develop abnormal social behaviours, such as increased aggression or competition between the animals. The close contact could also lead to the spread of disease and parasites. A Facebook page, 'Stop Whale Shark Feeding in Oslob, Cebu, Philippines,' says the feeding is an 'exploitation of both the fish and the people.' It has 881 likes. Animal rights groups say they understand the importance of tourism as a source of livelihood, but emphasize that it has to be done in a sustainable way in order to become a long-term possibility. */*

“Physalus is evaluating the effects of tourism and feeding on the behaviour of whale sharks and hopes their research will help the local government manage whale shark tourism and minimize the environmental impact. 'You should stop the detrimental effect to the shark, but you should also improve the livelihood of the community as well,' said biologist Samantha Craven, the group's project coordinator in Oslob. 'Real eco-tourism is something entirely achievable.' */*

Rare Irrawaddy Dolphins Found in Palawan

A new Philippine population of critically-endangered Irrawaddy dolphins was reported recently by WWF-Philippines. The WWF reported: “Spotted by chance off Quezon, Palawan in Western Philippines, this pod of rare marine mammals, locally called Lampasut, was observed displaying typical behavior, foraging for prey around lift net fish traps sitting approximately one kilometer offshore. WWF staff reported seeing at least 20 individuals in just one sighting. This is a relatively large sized pod for this uncommon species, where groups of fewer than six individuals are most common. Previous populations of these dolphins have been documented in Malampaya Sound, as well as off the island of Panay. The Quezon pod represents the fourth known group of Irrawaddy dolphins reported in the Philippines.[Source: WWF, panda.org, April 26, 2013]

The Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), is a euryhaline species of oceanic dolphin. With the ability to adapt to a wide range of salinities, this dolphin is found in discontinuous subpopulations near coasts and in estuaries and rivers in areas stretching from the Bay of Bengal to New Guinea and the Philippines.

Lightly colored all over, Irrawaddy dolphins are similar to the beluga in appearance. They have a blunt, rounded head, and an indistinct beak. Their dorsal fin is short, blunt and triangular. In the wild, they have been seen spitting out streams of water, a rather unique and peculiar behavior. Contrary to what some people believe, this animal is not a true river dolphin, but an oceanic dolphin that lives in brackish water near coasts, river mouths and in estuaries.

This species enjoys the highest level of international protection. All trade is forbidden, under international agreements. Some Irrawaddy dolphin populations are classified by the IUCN as critically endangered. This includes the Malampaya Sound sub-population in the Philippines. Irrawaddy dolphins in general however, are IUCN listed as a vulnerable species, which applies throughout their whole range.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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