Volume 17, No.2, Summer 1999

An Attraction For Sharks

Shark fishing had been a way of life for generations of Donsol residents. Families in this tiny village in the
Philippines relied on the giant, docile whale shark for their main source of income until overfishing made the shark
increasingly scarce. With guidance from the World Wildlife Fund, however, the villagers have created a new income source
while also protecting the largest sharks in nature.

What used to be peak hunting season for whale sharks has now become peak tourist season. Warm seas in December and
January bring plankton close to shore followed by the whale sharks who feed on it. In nearby Legazpi City, the hotels are
filled with tourists anxious to glimpse the whale sharks or even to snorkel in the waters close to where they are feeding.

Local fishermen are learning to become tour boat operators, and others are being trained as spotters to scan the water
for the slowly moving shadows and gray fins. While most tourists prefer the view from on deck, others slip quietly into
the water for a close-up view. A code of conduct prevents tourists from touching or interfering with the sharks, which can
grow to 60 feet in length and weigh 15 tons.

The flourishing tourist economy has already convinced Donsol residents that there is more money to be made from live
whale sharks than dead ones.


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