This post was written in 2012 for the Metropost, a local newspaper in Dumaguete. The editors of this site decided to republish it as a piece for contemplation this summer season.
Recently on the way to a day tour to Sumilon Island, our small group of 5 people decided to pass by Tanauan to see if it was a good day to encounter the whale sharks locally called Butanding. From previous reports there had been stories of chaos and disorganisation in how the local fishermen handled the incoming crowds of curious tourists. There had also been howls of protest from the discerning public in how the whale sharks were handled especially when photos showed up in the internet of people freely touching the Butanding and even standing on one of them which was stranded.
Our vehicle arrived in Tanauan where we were greeted by friendly fisher folk women. You’re lucky, they said, very few people today. And the sea was flat and crystal clear. Many Butandings that day. Yes, it was clear lessons had been learned and now no banca can go out before the passengers have sat down for a short briefing. No touching , no sudden movements and splashing of water, at least 6 feet distance from the whale shark. A system of payment was also in place where prices were clear.
As our banca joined the other boats that floated in a circle, I noticed a gray shadow in the sea near a feeding boat. As we got nearer we saw a whale shark. I slid gently into the water with mask, snorkel and fins and from underwater saw the full body of this beautifully spotted young Butanding, its gills opening and closing like window shutters. It came very near the feeding banca. I watched it open its mouth and as I watched, it suddenly dawned on me that, why this whale shark is begging. It is begging to be fed. And that made me sad. What are we doing to these creatures? We are making beggars of them. What is the consequence of feeding these Butandings? Obviously they come back to be fed and we humans because we are curious can watch them from very close and it brings money to the organizers as well as to the fisherfolk. But what else? Are we interfering in their seasonal journey? Because they have been fed by friendly bancas, they are likely to approach any boat that have other intentions like catching them and killing them for whatever value they have. That is the greatest danger in this whole story. I hope each one that goes to see these great gentle creatures also realize that.