Nineteen new individual whale sharks, locally known as “butanding,” have been spotted in the waters of Ticao-Burias Pass Protected Seascape (TBPPS) off the coast of Bicol since the start of 2020, according to conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF-Philippines).
It also reported 50 returning individuals, for a total of 69 unique whale sharks spotted since the start of the year. This makes for a total of 733 whale sharks documented in the region since monitoring began in 2007.
The whale sharks were identified as part of WWF-Philippines’ ongoing effort to protect the TBPPS ecosystem, a marine corridor that covers the provinces of Masbate, Sorsogon, and Albay and home to numerous endangered marine species, including the whale shark.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN currently lists the whale shark as endangered species.
The organization pointed out that the area is rich in marine biodiversity but development work in the surrounding provinces poses a threat to local ecosystems.
WWF-Philippines has operated sustainable tourism activities in the region since 1998, in a tripartite partnership with the local government of Donsol and the Department of Tourism-Bicol Region. Whale shark populations have risen since then, and the municipality of Donsol has developed into a third-class municipality.
Tourism activity in the TBPPS remains on hold under ongoing lockdown measures, but the group continues its daily whale shark monitoring operations.
“It’s important that we continue our whale shark monitoring efforts despite the lockdown. It’s our obligation as WWF-Philippines to continue monitoring activities, and to let the world know of the whale sharks of Donsol and their importance to their ecosystem,” WWF-Philippines Donsol project manager Jun Narvadez said in a statement.
“Our Butanding Interaction Officers, our spotters, they all help us monitor the whale sharks. This is a community effort that helps both the whale sharks and the people of Donsol. Hopefully by November, we’ll be able to restart our tourism activities again,” he added.