photo by Jayegirl99 (source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Once considered a pest and hunted, the majestic whale sharks of Donsol in the Philippines are now a successful attraction for eco-tourists.

The whale shark is the world’s largest fish and can measure up to 20 meters in length. Used as a food source in some places of the world, whale shark meat is not cheap – especially the fins. This despite the fact that the World Conservation Union lists the whale shark as vulnerable to extinction.

But preserving and protecting the whale sharks of Donsol is far more appealing – and profitable – for the residents of this Philippine municipality, known as the ‘Whale Shark Capital of the World’. In fact, the fishing of whale sharks is banned by the government of the Philippines.

From a CNN eco-solutions report:

The attitude towards whale sharks here changed nearly overnight. Credited with helping to make that happen is Dave Duran, a charismatic, passionate cameraman turned diver. Twelve years ago he shot footage of the whale sharks and brought it to international spotlight, to the attention of the World Wildlife Fund, marine biologists and scientists.

Since the species is endangered, there is a movement for an international ban on the trade of their meat. An expedition recently traveled to Hong Kong with the aim of exposing the Chinese trade of whale shark.

From a special report by Australia’s Herald Sun:

Hunting the animals is legal in much of Asia, though investigators who were part of the expedition will now use the evidence from Hong Kong to pressure the Rudd Government to lobby for an international ban on trade in whale shark meat and fins.

Check out this video report from CNN eco solutions about how a simple change of attitude improved the lives of both the whale sharks and the people of Donsol.

‘Swimming with sharks saves lives’

Additional resources:

Manila Bulletin – Mapping exercise to protect coral reefs