Propellor Cut on Oslob's Flagship Whale Shark

Shark P-383, a juvenile male whale shark, known locally as "Fermin" has long been celebrated by the tourist feeding industry in Tan-awan, Oslob. He is probably the longest standing visitor to the feeding area. 

Fermin was one of the first whale sharks identified by researcher Elson Aca on December 2011. Fermin is part of the group of six sharks that have been present, and feeding from boats nearly every day since the beginning of our research in Oslob on March 31st. 

A bar chart showing the daily presence or absence of P-383 (Fermin) in the Tan-awan interaction area. The shark is identified by photo-identification using it's unique spot pattern and distinguishing features, such as scars. 

He was last seen in the interaction area on Monday, 16th July 2012. At this time, the only scars on his face were the callous'/sores from rubbing against the hulls of the paddle-feeding boats. 

Fermin, Oslob Whale Shark, Scars from rubbing on feeding boats
The last clear photo of Fermin's head was taken on the 11th of July, 2012. The white scars above his eye are typical of the sharks that visit the Tan-awan interaction area frequently.

Fermin was not seen from Tuesday, 17th July to 19th July 2012. This morning, after the first survey, concerned feeders from Tan-awan informed our researchers that Fermin was back , but he wasn't feeding and he had lots of scars across his face and that his eye might be damaged. 

During the second survey of the day, he was seen feeding from at least two different feeder boats. He has 11 parallel scars running from the top of the mouth, past the eye on the left side of his head. Two appear to be fairly deep, and one cut is across the left eye. 

This lacerations at regular intervals, with a slight S-shape are indicative of propellor contact. Judging from the size of the wounds, the propellor probably belonged to a small bangka (or pump boat). 

P-383 (Fermin) has 11 parallel, S-shaped lacerations across his face,  indicative of recent propellor contact. Note the cut across the left eye. 

It is not yet possible to determine the extent of the damage to the eye, and whether vision has been compromised. Fermin was observed to 'roll' his eye back (a behaviour common to many shark species to protect the eye from damage) today, so still has motor ability. 

Our researchers in Oslob have observed sharks approaching the bubbles of divers, bubbles from the fins of snorkelers, and dive boats moored at the edge of the interaction area, as if approaching for food. The regular whale sharks in Tan-awan associate boats and bubbles with food. Regulations within the interaction area in Tan-awan are strict, no motor boats are allowed inside the area. 

Close up of the fresh wounds.

The feeding interaction stops at 1pm and sharks then leave the interaction area. Outside of the controlled feeding area, they will still associate bubbles and boats with food. Propellors from motorized boats create a trail of bubbles. 

Propellor injuries are a common threat to whale sharks that spend time at the surface feeding on plankton. Many sharks with propellor scars have them on the dorsal fin, or across the back or back of the head, indicating that the boat has run over the shark, probably without realizing it. Fermin's scars are face-on, it is likely that he approached a propellor boat, as he would a feeding boat. 

We do not know where, or when exactly the incident occurred. 

An increase in propellor scars (though less severe than this) have been observed in Tan-awan's whale sharks since June. 

Recently, other nearby towns have been experimenting with feeding whale sharks. Moalboal is currently in the process of passing an ordinance for whale shark interaction with the intent to feed. 

Over 60 sharks have been identified by Physalus' Large Marine Vertebrate Project in the interaction area of Tan-awan. Currently, there are approximately ten sharks seen daily. This is an increase from the six who were seen daily in April, and who are part of the ten now. 

Fermin is the first of the regular sharks to obtain a serious injury, but the number of sharks associating boats with food is increasing. The spread of feeding activities to other municipalities would exponentially increase the number of sharks learning this behaviour, and thereby exposing a greater proportion of the whale shark population in the Visayas to serious injury. 

LAMAVE will continue to work with the LGU and local community of Oslob to collect data and monitor injuries and scarring to work towards more sustainable practices. 

NOTE: Under no circumstances should a person take it upon themselves to treat any kind of wildlife injury. Many animals are allergic to our medicines, and it would either cause further harm or slow down the natural healing process. 

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