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Whale Sharks Receive Protection in the Philippines

March, 27 1998: Release from: The following is reprinted from a story entitled "Whale Sharks' Slaughter Stopped" by Dona Pazzibugan appearing in the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THE POD of gentle whale sharks being killed off the coasts of Sorsogon may be able to breathe a little easier now that the government, largely because of public clamor, has banned the killing and sale of whale sharks and guess what else-manta rays!-to prevent their population's further decline. Agriculture Secretary Salvador Escudero III finally signed on Wednesday an administrative order making it unlawful to catch, sell, purchase, possess, transport and export whale sharks (scientific name: Rhincodon typus) and manta rays (Manta birostris). These species have been declared protected creatures under Fisheries Administrative Order 193, Series of 1998. But both species, which are considered delicacies, have not been officially declared endangered although their numbers have significantly declined in recent years because of growing local and foreign demand, mainly in Taiwan. For his part, President Ramos yesterday disclosed that he had issued a ''wide-ranging'' executive order for the preservation of all internationally protected marine species. The President also said that he had directed several government agencies led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, to look into the plight of the whale sharks. The whale shark is a spotted, egg-laying type of shark that thrives on plankton in warm seas and often reaches 15 meters (49 feet) in length. Whale sharks are known to take 30 years before reaching sexual maturity. Mantas are giant rays with wing-like fins that also feed on plankton. Until now, only marine mammals like dolphins and the endangered dugong are covered by the government's protection and conservation program for marine wildlife. The ban on the harvest of whale sharks and manta rays was recommended by Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Dennis Araullo. FAO 193 takes effect 15 days upon publication in two nationally circulated newspapers. 4-year jail term. Under the law, violators will be fined not less than P500 and not more than P5,000 and/or imprisonment from six months to four years. BFAR can also impose an administrative fine of not more than P5,000 and/or cancel the license or permit of a trader found to have caught whale sharks and manta rays.

It will also be unlawful to wound or to kill whale sharks and manta rays in the course of catching other fish. Those accidentally caught in any fishing gear should be immediately released unharmed to the sea, while whale sharks and manta rays which drifted to the shore shall be surrendered to the nearest DA or BFAR office. BFAR did not know of the rare year round presence of a large pod of whale sharks in the waters off Donsol town in western Sorsogon until it was reported in the Inquirer on March 23. The Inquirer reported the killing of six whale sharks over the past two weeks by local fishermen and a commercial fishing company for export to Taiwan where there is demand for its meat and fins as delicacies. BFAR earlier said that it was helpless in stopping the slaughter of the whale sharks because there was no law against the export or trading of whale shark meat because as fish, it was not considered an endangered species. Not helpless. Sen. Raul Roco said BFAR was not helpless in protecting the whale sharks. ''If need be, both the DA and BFAR may call upon the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard, the PNP-Maritime Command, the local government units and other government enforcement agencies to stop the indiscriminate harvesting of whale sharks,'' he said in a statement. Noel Barut of BFAR's research division said the FAO 193 was one measure to protect and conserve the whale sharks and manta rays from overfishing. Barut said the whale shark population could be depleted at the rate the creatures were caught and killed in the waters off Bohol, Misamis Oriental and lately in Sorsogon to meet high export demand. Fisheries officials said about 200 whale sharks and 200 manta rays were caught in Philippine seas last year but added there was no official estimate of the remaining population. A few weeks ago, the Donsol municipal council passed an ordinance declaring their municipal waters a sanctuary for whale sharks. Under the Fisheries Code, local governments have the power to enforce regulations on its municipal waters, which is 15 kilometers from the shore. ''Yes, that ordinance would make catching whale sharks in Donsol illegal. But they (local government) will be the ones to enforce it,'' Barut said.

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