Around six months ago, a group of local fisherman from the tiny Philippine town of Oslob got famous, fast. Word got out that the men were hand feeding the world's largest (and elusive) fish, the whale shark.According to local tourism authorities, the whale sharks and fishermen were in competition over the same territory--one group after small krill (the sharks' diet), the other after the larger fish that fed off of them.Instead of killing these massive creatures (as has been done in other areas of the world) each day one fisherman would lure the whale sharks away by dropping a trail of krill in the water while his colleagues continued their work.Word spread, and local tourists became interested. Nothing like this had ever been done before, not with the ocean's largest fish.Photos showed up on the internet. A tourism boom hit Oslob. Soon, international authorities and environmental groups got involved, some claiming the feeding would have a long term effect on the sharks' behavior. Others wanted to study the fish, the feeding, and also set up some guidelines to mitigate potential impact before it happened.As luck would have it, an environmental organization, LAMAVE (Large Marine Vertebrates Project) was conducting a study on the impact of tourism and daily feeding on whale shark migration and behavior. They happened to be short staffed the day we arrived. We spent the day helping count, photograph, and identify the sharks that were visiting that day.
Liz talks whale shark behavior with Christine, a LAMAVE staff member.That was one day and one volunteer opportunity we'll never forget. The markings between the gill slits and the dorsal fin are like a whale shark's fingerprint. Each pattern is unique.