Five Miss Universe finalists have been criticised by environmentalists for swimming with wild whale sharks.
The beauty pageant contestants were filmed diving in the sparkling blue waters of Oslob, Cebu alongside the graceful sea creatures as part of their tour of the Philippines, the host nation of Miss Universe 2016.
But behind the enchanting footage lies a darker truth.
— CNN Philippines (@cnnphilippines) December 13, 2016
The Whale Shark tourism industry bolsters the local economy in Oslob and it is now a favourite spot for tourists who want to interact with the docile whale sharks up close.
But the ‘eco-tours’ operated by local businesses have come under criticism from animal rights activists, who allege the group dive activities constitute illegal animal abuses.
Although the sharks are naturally migratory in nature, the locals have started to feed the wild animals frozen shrimp, enticing them to remain on their shores, and so creating a lucrative year-round tourism industry.
Research conducted by the World Wildlife Fund this month has stated the whale shark diving tourism trade is harming the animals, adding it ‘could have negative long-term effects on their life cycle, such as their ability to reproduce’.
WWF's statement on Oslob whale shark interactions: https://t.co/9bJOdyEvUd
We are ready to help steer them onto the path of sustainability.
— WWF-Philippines (@WWF_Philippines) December 14, 2016
A report published by WWF reads:
The WWF believes people should respect the nature of whale sharks, being highly migratory animals which should not be trained to stay in one place.
By feeding them, people are modifying their natural behaviour which might severely affect the way they live and reproduce.
Environmentalists have also claimed many of the tourists taken on dives are not briefed correctly about how to interact with the whale sharks.
Sadly, it is not uncommon for people to touch the animals, use flash photography and even try to ride the whales.
Any harassment of whale sharks is illegal under Filipino law, specifically the Republic Act 9147, which was put in place to ensure the conservation and protection of wildlife resources and habitats in the Philippines.
To put a stop to these widespread irresponsible behaviours, and the Miss Universe pageant’s participation in the damaging local industry, Shark Summit Philippines has opened a petition asking the pageant to recall the footage.
The petition has garnered support on various social media sites and has nearly reached its required 3,000 signatures.
— Ivan Henares (@ivanhenares) December 13, 2016
While none of the Miss Universe contestants are actually documented behaving inappropriately towards the whale sharks in Oslob, such a high-profile global advertisement for the activity poses an ominous threat to the animals’ welfare.
WWF has release a plea to tourists to swim with the wild whale sharks in the town of Donsol in Sorsogon instead.
Here, the seas are protected, the animals are not fed unnaturally and man and beast can interact in harmony.