Whale shark photo shoot sparks eco-tourism debate online

'It is eco-terrorism, not tourism,' says Albay Gov Joey Salceda

Screenshot from The Telegraph

MANILA, Philippines – The photos were dramatic, striking and breathtaking—but for some eco-tourism advocates, they were simply unacceptable. 

A photo gallery on The Telegraph that featured two foreign models posing with whale sharks in Oslob, Cebu sparked a debate online.

Some of the photos were making the rounds on Facebook, due in part to a post by Albay Governor Joey Salceda.

Kaya pala nawawala ang mga butanding sa natural habitat nila sa Donsol is because Oslob at it again,” said Salceda in his Facebook album “Whaleshark abuse back in grand vengeance at Oslob.” 

(It’s no wonder we’re losing the whale sharkes in their natural habitat in Donsol, Oslob is at it again.) 

The models—Hannah Fraser and Roberta Mancio—were photographed by Kristian Schmidt and Shawn Heinrichs in a project that took 4 months to plan, according to The Telegraph. 

“The shoot aimed to raise awareness about the plight of the whale sharks which are often the victims of poaching,” The Telegraph said in its website. 

Watch the behind-the-scenes video here.



“This is all very wrong—it is eco-terrorism, not tourism,” said Salceda.

Screenshot from Joey Salceda's public Facebook album. As of posting it has over 80 shares.

According to The Telegraph, the photo shoot team “tracked the whale sharks down by tapping the knowledge of locals in the Philippines.”

“Each day the whale sharks come in to the shallow waters of the village and the fishermen feed them small handfuls of tiny shrimp,” Heinrichs told The Telegraph.

The feeding of whale sharks by humans is a controversial issue. Environmentalists argue that doing so disrupts the whale sharks’ natural activities. In Oslob, these sharks don’t normally swim in shallow waters, but they do now because fishermen feed them to put on a show for tourists.

“I am officially asking the the DOT and BFAR to take strong and punitive measures. The event sponsors, the promoters, and the models should be jailed for animal cruelty,” Salceda added.

Comments on the album Salceda posted were mixed—a lot marveled at the photos, while some were horrified at the what they called Oslob’s lack of eco-tourism standards.

Another Cebu town became controversial after photos of locals closely interacting with whale sharks went viral. Residents of Boljoon, Cebu apologized for the incident as the regional tourism department said it would push for animal conservation aggressively.

What’s your take on the butanding photoshoot? Let us know what you think and leave a comment below. —Rappler.com

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