Whale Sharks

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LAMAVE conducts comprehensive whale shark research across the Philippines using photo identification, behavioral surveys, tissue sampling for genetics and stable isotope analysis, and tagging with temperature-depth-recorders and satellite tags.  We have established whale shark research bases on the islands of Cebu and Leyte.

The Bohol Sea is a historical hunting ground for the world’s largest fish with over 700 individuals landed at two sites over 7 years (1991-1997).  In 1998, following the discovery of the famous whale shark aggregation site at Donsol, the Philippines passed a national law (FAO 193) banning the hunting of these animals.  As a result, some local communities turned to tourism.  However, regulations governing responsible practices were never established, and oversight continues to be minimal.  No existing national code of conduct for whale shark interaction exists, resulting in varied tourism practices across the country.  By studying the behavioral and ecological impacts of tourism on whale sharks and evaluating the long-term socioeconomic impacts on local communities and stakeholders, LAMAVE is working to develop a sustainable long-term management plan for the species in the Philippines.

Our research focuses on identifying key areas of whale shark presence, tracking movement and migration patterns, and studying their habitat and ecology.  Our photo identification surveys have identified over 320 individual animals within the Philippines, and confirmed the first international match within Southeast Asia.

Our whale shark projects are located in Oslob, Cebu, and Pintuyan, Southern Leyte.  In Oslob, the local government has adopted the controversial practice of feeding whale sharks, leading to a rapid increase in tourism. LAMAVE began researching the effects of the feeding in 2012, and is the only organization monitoring the sharks and collecting scientific data in Oslob.  To date, we have identified over 200 individuals, and placed tracking devices on several animals that have yielded important data regarding dive profiles and behaviour patterns.  We use this information to educate local communities, reduce the impact the feeding has on the whale shark population, and advise the local and national government on proposed guidelines for sustainable tourism.  For more information on our work in Oslob, please click here.

In Southern Leyte, whale shark tourism is in the early stages of development, making the regulation and promotion of sustainable tourism in this region essential.  Here, unlike Oslob, the sharks are not being fed, and tourists interact with free-swimming animals.  Our work in Leyte focuses on understanding the sharks’ seasonal migration patterns, feeding ecology, and the potential impact of the growing tourism in this region.  By working closely with local governments and regional authorities, we hope to ensure a balance between the needs of the community and the long-term conservation of the animals.  For more information on our research in Leyte, please click here.

Our projects and research can only continue with your support. To find out how you can help us continue our projects, please click here.

BBC Shark Info Graphic LAMAVE Click to Download