Legazpi Mayor issues butanding interaction rules

Mayor Noel Rosal of Legazpi City
LEGAZPI CITY  Mayor Noel E. Rosal of this “City of Fun and Adventure” has issued whale shark interaction guidelines in the wake of the arrival of a pod of the “gentle giants of the ocean” that now inhabit the water not far from one of the city’s tourists hangouts.

The guidelines carry a “Code of Conduct” in dealing with the enormous sea mammals that, since its first public appearance near the waterfront of Embarcadero de Legazpi adjoining the city harbor last Monday morning, have been continuously hanging around nearby sites along the Legazpi Boulevard.

The four-kilometer boulevard that fronts Albay Gulf and stretches from Embarcadero de Legazpi to Barangay Puro is the newest leisure spot that serves as a daily rendezvous for tourists and locals for its fresh ocean air and picturesque setting with the majestic Mt. Mayon on the background.

The coming of the whale sharks has become an added attraction, drawing hundreds of tourists rushing to go seaborne for underwater interactions and, Rosal stressed in the guidelines, that “to ensure safety and enjoyable experience and to prevent the animals from being disturbed, the Code of Conduct must be observed.”

“First, do not touch or ride on the whale shark nor restrict its movement or impede its natural path. The recommended distance from the animals that divers should maintain is three meters from its tail,” the city mayor said.

While whale sharks are passive creatures, they can be agitated by any form of aggression such as being touched or chased that is why in the Code, these behaviors are strictly forbidden, he explained.

He warns that although whale sharks are harmless, their sheer size makes it necessary for the divers to exercise caution around them, especially at the tail end.

Other acts that are forbidden during interactions, Rosal said, are the use of flash in taking underwater photographs and the use of scuba, scooters, jet ski or any motorized underwater propulsion so as not to cause even minimal disturbance to the sharks when approaching it by boat or when diving.

The number of divers interacting with a whale shark should also be limited to six and only one boat must be allowed to approach each animal to avoid crowding that may disturb them, Rosal said in the guidelines.

“We have this whale shark Code of Conduct to ensure the protection of this endangered marine mammals as well as the safety of people, mostly tourists, fascinated by having close underwater encounters with them,” he said.

According to the city mayor, “diving with whale sharks in their natural environment is a breathtaking and rewarding experience as this world’s biggest fish glides slowly but gracefully past, resplendent in its dappled skin, within touching distance and impassive to the presence of the onlooker.”

Thousands of divers seek out this opportunity and this Code of Conduct guides them how, for their own safety and that of the whale sharks locally called butandings, he said.

The mayor has instructed the city’s Integrated Coastal Resource Management Unit (ICRMU) to see to it that the Code is observed and the guidelines strictly followed as more tourists are expected to come for the experience should these animals stay for a longer period of time.

ICRMU chief Chito Ante said the whale sharks are around the city waters to take advantage of the seasonal abundance in the area of planktons that fill their diet.butanding, Ante said, the city government is also adopting the Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) in responding to emergencies involving whale sharks like stranding incidents.

Rosal added that since the whale sharks are in the city waters, “it is our responsibility to ensure their protection and survival for future generations.”

“We do not just protect the butandings but we pamper them here not only because they are among the rare marine species listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature but also it would help a lot our tourism industry,” the mayor stressed. (PNA)

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