Humpback whales visit Ilocos
- Artemio Dumlao () - April 9, 2012 - 12:00am

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Humpback whales 12 to 16 meters long, apparently escaping the colder parts of the Pacific Ocean for the warm waters of the Philippines this summer, are drawing tourists in Ilocos Norte.

Pasaleng Bay in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte has become a hit among adventure seekers, conservationists and tourists, as a pair of humpback whales and their young have been frolicking in its warm waters since April 2.

“Ilocos Norte’s water shores serve as a haven for endangered marine species which are migrating for the warm waters,” said Dr. Lemnuel Aragones, associate professor at UP Diliman’s Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology.

The Ilocos Norte tourism office immediately sought Aragones for insights on how to deal with the emerging opportunity.

Provincial tourism officer Ianree Raquel said fishermen in Pasaleng Bay have become familiar with the humpback whales since the marine mammals’ arrival.

Locals told World Wildlife Foundation marine mammal expert AG Sano that whales have been seen yearly in the area for decades especially during the Holy Week.

Sano, popularly known as ‘Environmental Hero’ for his work in protecting dolphins, immediately headed to Pasaleng Bay after learning that whales have been spotted there.

Sano and his group of conservationists discovered that fishermen have always heard their parents telling about the whales, even hearing them sing, which at first they thought were “ghosts.”

Folk culture has also developed a thinking that whales bring in more fish catch for the community, Raquel added.

Residents first spotted the whales on March 31, and initially counted 10 of them.

The provincial tourism office documented an adult male and female and one calf (baby whale) practicing its early diving skills and breathing technique.

Aragones advises the provincial government to make sure “that resources will be utilized properly in protecting the whales thus ensuring benefits for the locals as they prepare for the influx of tourists eager to see the unique phenomenon.”

But the spotting of the whales has sparked rivalry among coastal some communities. “Aside from Pasaleng, a part of Sta. Praxedes, Cagayan also has claims. It would be best if they talk among themselves so as to avoid rivalry,” Aragones said.

Aragones urged the Ilocos Norte provincial government, particularly the town of Pagudpud, to come up with income-generating projects like putting up a hilltop station that can serve as a whale-watching site for tourists.

Aragones also suggested adopting whale-watching trips like those by Whale Adventures in San Francisco, California.

“Of course, you wouldn’t want the people in the place to feel like they have lost their sense of ownership. Give them tasks. You wouldn’t want to have local rebels, right?”

“The government is ready to partner and support. And in order to provide a good start for the name of the tourism industry in the locality, we made sure the whales are moved farther into the sea so as to avoid danger, both for the whales and for the residents as well,” Raquel said.

Ilocos Norte officials have started getting orientations on marine conservation protocols.

Raquel said the whales would not be in danger as they move a bit farther out but close enough for the people to enjoy watching them dive and surface.

Conservationists advised residents not to get near the whales to avoid being hit by their fins. A humpback whale can be up to 16 meters in length and is known to be overprotective of its young.

They are much different from the “butandings” or whale sharks, according to marine experts.

Jenica Dizon, president of the Ateneo Environmental Science Society, refuted reports quoting the Provincial Agricultural Office of Ilocos Norte on whale shark sightings in Barangay Pasalen.

Dizon explained whale sharks are not mammals but are actually large fish.

She also said the dead sea creature buried by residents in Barangay Nalvo, Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur was not a whale shark but a pilot whale. According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the dead sea creature appeared to have been killed in a dynamite fishing activity. - With Raymund Catindig

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