Wednesday, March 11, 2009

15-inch whale shark rescued in Sorsogon

By Katherine Adraneda
Updated March 10, 2009 12:00 AM

A marine conservation officer holds a baby whale shark, which was found with a rope on its tail tied to a stick in Pilar town, Sorsogon. WWF

MANILA, Philippines - A 15-inch whale shark, locally known as butanding, has been found in Sorsogon.

Conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF-Philippines) reported yesterday that the rescue of what could be the smallest whale shark in the country, and perhaps in the world, might lead to answers to the mystery of where the sea creatures breed.

According to the WWF, the baby whale shark was caught last Friday in nearby San Antonio, a barangay of Pilar town, adjacent to Donsol in Sorsogon and was allegedly about to be sold.

A Butanding Interaction Officer (BOI) from Donsol town identified as Embet Guadamor alerted the municipal agricultural officer as well as WWF’s project leader in Donsol, Elson Aca, as soon as he received the information Saturday morning.

“A veteran of several years of fieldwork, including a multi-year stint with humpback whales in the Babuyan Islands, Elson (Aca) knew instinctively what to do. Now in stranding response mode, he grabbed his camera, cell phone and a copy of Fisheries Administrative Order 193, protecting whale sharks, and rushed to the Tourism Office,” related Jose Ma. Lorenzo Tan, vice-chairman and CEO of WWF-Philippines.

A team consisting of the tourism officer, agricultural officer, BIO, and Aca quickly drew up an operational plan to rescue the small whale shark, which WWF-Philippines christened the “Million Dollar Baby” for its significance and rarity.

They found the whale shark with a rope around its tail tied to a stick stuck into the sand.

The team freed the shark and checked to see that the animal was unhurt. They then documented the discovery and measured the shark, which was 15 inches from tip to tail. They put the whale shark in a large plastic bag with water to allow it to swim freely in preparation for release.

About three hours later, the team boarded a banca and took it out to deep water, where it was less likely to get entangled in a fish net, and set it free.

Tan said many researches have been done worldwide on whale sharks, but to date, no one knows where the whale sharks breed or give birth.

Tan noted that the whale shark rescued in Pilar town last Saturday was so small that “it was probably born (there) and could have been what biologists call a neo-nate.”

“Not only is this animal the smallest live whale shark on record ever to be captured and released here in the Philippines, it is also the first indication that the Philippines, at the apex of the Coral Triangle, is probably one of the places on the planet where these giants of the sea are born,” Tan pointed out.

“For many years, scientists thought that Donsol was merely one of many ‘gas stations’ along the global network of marine highways where whale sharks cruised. This new discovery is the first ever indication that this coastline may actually be a birthing site. This comes as no surprise. After all, this happened in the Coral Triangle – the nursery of the seas – where life begins, and many things remain possible,” he added.

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