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MANILA, Philippines – The beginning of 2016 saw the Philippines lose one of less than a thousand whale sharks ever identified in the country. (READ: 900th whale shark found in the Philippines)
Jessica Labaja, a researcher from the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines, confirmed that the whale shark that tragically died, entangled in a fishing net in Surigao del Norte on January 2, 2016, was in fact P-930, the 930th whale shark to be identified in the Philippines
P-930, nicknamed Pintados, in honor of the Filipino people that used to inhabit the Visayas and whose bodies were covered in tattoos to display their bravery, was first encountered alive by Jessica and her team of researchers on December 13, 2015, while on a scientific survey in Sogod Bay, Southern Leyte.
The male shark measured 7 meters in length and was encountered while feeding in the rich water of Pintuyan in Sogod Bay. He was identified by the spot and line pattern on his body that is unique to each individual whale shark.
On the dawn of January 2, he was discovered already dead. He was found entangled in a fishing net in Barangay Pamosaingan, Socorro, Surigao del Norte, by one of the local fishermen, who alerted the local authorities.
With the assistance of the local men and women, under the leadership of Barangay Captain Felipa Liquido, members of the Philippine National Police, and Senior Police Officer (SPO2) Wilson Antipasado, one of the most promising whale shark researchers in the country, Miss Jessica Labaja, conducted a necropsy to identify the health status of the whale shark prior to the entanglement in the pamo net.
The results of the necropsy determined that the entanglement and derived suffocation was the only cause of death.
Whale sharks are the largest fish on earth. They can grow to a length of up to 20 meters, and live for over 100 years. Pintados was only 7 meters long and estimated to be around 20 years old. He was found dead in a healthy condition with his stomach still full of food.
A tragedy that affects us all
The premature death of Pintado is a tragedy for many reasons.
Whale sharks like him support a sustainable tourism industry in the nearby Sogod Bay, Southern Leyte and in Donsol, Sorsogon, where tourists fly from across the globe to see these incredible giants, fuelling the creation of alternative livelihoods and the local economy.
The loss of each individual is equivalent to the loss of income for the local economy.
Secondly, the Visayas, which historically was a prime hunting ground for whale sharks for over a century, made progress when the Fisheries Administrative Order 193 in 1998 saved these giants from extinction.
While the fishery ban was difficult for many of the fishing villages, it was a necessary move to ensure the long-term conservation of this species.
In the 1990s nearly 1000 whale sharks were killed, and since then, nearly 20 years after the ban, researchers and the public have encountered less than 1000 individual whale sharks alive in the whole country. (READ: Viral butanding photo prompts info campaign)
These giants are slowly recolonizing our Philippine waters, however it will take many more years to ensure their complete recovery.
Whale sharks are not only an incredible tourism attraction when properly managed, but they are the indicator of a healthy ocean and are indispensable to maintain the balance in the marine ecosystem. – Rappler.com
Sally Snow is Media Director of the Large Marine Vertebrates Project Philippines.
For more information on the research of whale sharks and other large marine vertebrates, visit www.lamave.org. If you have a photo of a whale shark sighting, you can assist the ongoing research by uploading it on www.whaleshark.org.