An encounter with a whale shark is nothing short of magical. In fact, it is so intoxicating that a whole tourism industry has grown around the experience and sadly this is taking its toll on the world’s biggest fish.
Picture this – hundreds of whale shark gathering together to feast on plankton blooms, each one weighing in at over 20 tonnes and measuring up to 14 metres. It’s one of the world’s most incredible natural phenomenons and Southeast Asia gets to play host to it every year.
But the surge in unregulated tour boats competing for a piece of whale shark action is threatening to scare this gentle giant away from migratory routes it has used for centuries. A devastating blow for a species already classified as vulnerable to extinction.
At WWF, we have found an answer that will save the whale shark – sustainable tourism. It not only protects the shark but raises revenue for research and provides much needed income for the local community.
WWF is already pioneering one successful whale shark project but we urgently need to kick start more before whale sharks disappear for good. We need your help!
Just $38 per month will help save a whale shark, and who knows maybe one day your reward will be to experience that whale shark magic for yourself.
Last 24 April 2015, WWF donors from Singapore went to Donsol, Sorsogon in the Philippines for a conservation trip. This trip enabled them to swim with the whale sharks, plant mangroves and marvel at the beauty of the ocean and rural landscape of the town.
The sunset at Donsol gave everyone a relaxed and peaceful mood, away from the city life. It felt good to be this close to nature.
That night, the group’s tour guide explained how mangroves, fireflies and whale sharks are connected. All of which help in building a thriving eco-tourism in the town of Donsol.
The WWF donors were split into teams. One boat could only take about 4-5 people. They navigated the river with their assigned guide and boatman to do the firefly tour.
The fireflies congregate in huge colonies to feed in mangrove trees along the riverbanks. Mangroves are important because they keep the rivers healthy and release key nutrients into the water. These nutrient-rich waters feed microscopic plankton that whale sharks eat along with krill. The donors were all in awe of the fireflies giving the night a different kind of sparkle.
The next day, WWF donors joined the rest of the town’s tourists to watch the Whale shark Interaction video. This short video in collaboration with WWF tells about the do's and don’ts when you’re out in the boat and the sea for the whale shark interaction tour. Tourists were asked not to touch and feed the whale sharks. The interaction happens in the whale sharks’ natural environment.
In 1998, WWF-Philippines helped the local government of Donsol set up the community-based Whale shark Ecotourism Programme. The project has generated jobs for locals - who are now tour guides, Whale shark Interaction Officers, boat crew members, captains, home stay owners and resort staff.
Climbing at the top while balancing on a bamboo stick, a Whale shark Spotter, with his sharp eyes, helps the boat crew locate the whale sharks. The donors managed to see two whale sharks! Amazing!
The Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) is the world’s largest fish. Known in the Philippines as ‘butanding’, a whale shark can grow in size as big as a bus. Annually, over 300 whale sharks visit Donsol. They congregate in the waters of Donsol due to high levels of plankton and krill.
Each whale shark has a unique pattern of spots and stripes on their skin, much like our fingerprints. WWF-Philippines uses these patterns to identify individual sharks. Divers photograph the animal right above their pectoral fins and behind their gill slits.
The photos are fed into a computer database as a form of monitoring the number of whale sharks to help in their conservation. Here, the donors from Singapore were briefed on how the photo identification is done at the WWF satellite office in Donsol.
The next day, donors were up and jolly to plant mangroves!
Shee Li, a WWF-Singapore donor for 3 years now is holding a mangrove propagule. She’s ready to plant!
More than 35% of the world’s mangroves are already gone. The figure is as high as 50% in countries like the Philippines. WWF conducts regular mangrove replanting in places where mangroves have a high chance of growing.
Within the conservation trip, the group also visited Ticao Island in Masbate where WWF plans to develop another eco-tourism programme for the manta rays.
"The trip was the perfect balance of fun, productivity, helping the community and having some spare time. Was an absolute pleasure!". WWF-Singapore thanks all our donors for your support and passion to help our environment, the community and species that live in it.
With a mouth nearly 5 feet wide and the thickest skin of any animal on the planet at 14cm thick, it is not surprising the whale shark is a record-breaker! At up to 46 feet long, weighing up to 11 tonnes, this is the biggest fish you will find in the ocean and the largest of the shark species.
The biggest congregation of whale sharks in the world is off the coast of Donsol in the Philippines where hundreds visit each year in one of nature’s most amazing events.
Each whale shark possesses a unique skin pattern – a bit like a fingerprint. WWF is using these individual markings to identify whale sharks as part of research which could prove crucial to the conservation of these magnificent species.