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By: Eleanor Valeros | Published Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Eight pods of spinner and Fraser’s dolphins showed up greeting visitors in a tour last July 25 facilitated by the Barili Tourism Office. (Photo from Barili Tourism Office)

The star power of spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) is expected to ignite adulation from visitors as soon as the Municipality of Barili is poised to add a dolphin-watching activity to its tour package.

Barili is already known for its Mantayupan Falls, deemed as the highest waterfalls in Cebu Island, for its 98-meter-high cascade aside from Bolocboloc Sulfur Spring. But it has to create more attractions in moving forward with the Cebu Provincial Government’s direction of enhancing countryside development to entice more constituents to work in their respective towns, instead of flocking to the urban centers for work opportunities.

Thus, Mayor Marlon Garcia inspired his team of tourism specialists to identify the areas where sightings of dolphins are observed and create a program that is both beneficial to man and to wildlife.

The endearing dolphins are out to change the course of lifestyle and livelihood opportunities in Barili under a new normal way of life.

For decades, these cetaceans live in the Tañon Strait corridor, but because they consume fish in a frenzy, fishermen would drive them away from established fishing grounds. Even the “tuki” (whaleshark or butanding) was considered a nuisance in the past as it destroys fish nets or fishing mesh as it hunts for food.

Tañon Strait, the body of water which divides Cebu Island from Negros, is long known to be “home” to cetaceans. Of the 27 species of whales and dolphins in the country, 14 are said to be observed in Tañon. Migratory mammals such as whalesharks (Rhincodon typus) use the marine corridor as a nautical highway to warmer waters.

But even though the splashes and spews created by these cetaceans have been there for ages, these remain inaudible with Barili perceived in the past to be more of a “sleepy town.”

Aside from agricultural products and livestock that spark trade in its prominent trading market in Mantalongon on a mid-week, Barili has not expressly promoted its ecotourism attractions. when it could have enjoyed the attention of spelunkers. 

Spelunkers would have enjoyed the interesting cave systems in Barangay Nasipit with Bangaglapus as a standout, trekkers stroll along the nice walk trails in Barangay San Rafael, and divers explore an important underwater wall teeming with marine creatures like sea turtles in Barangay Hilasgasan.

Somehow, in the transformation Barili is taking to adapt to a new normal way of life amid a pandemic, the charismatic spinner dolphins become the centerpiece of its tourism campaign to promote job generation vis-à-vis sustained ecological protection while people enjoy the pure bliss of nature and wildlife.

Known for their playful antics and ways of communicating such as jumping, twisting or somersaulting off the waters, spinner dolphins excite economic enterprises to uplift lives and livelihoods heavily impacted by community quarantines and lockdowns.

In a tour last July 25, facilitated by the Barili Tourism Office headed by Victor “Jarel” Vergara, additional boatbuilding stations are noticed in the coastline of Barangay Japitan. 

The wharf in Japitan serves as mooring station for returning fishing boats out at sea for nights. The huddle here of lab-aseras (fresh fish purchasers), fish net makers, fishermen, and townsfolk is seen to double in the coming days as some transform into barangay tour guides or cultural interpreters, boat operators, manufacturers of souvenir items, and producers of new food products seen to highlight Barili’s catchphrase: “Beauty and Beyond.”

Meanwhile, because tourism activities – to say in a straightforward manner - are threat to the continued efforts in marine conservation, a management plan to include regulations specific to the unique needs of the Tañon Strait Protected seascape is considered.

Around 200 spinner dolphins, in eight pods, appeared on July 25 much to the delight and elation of fellow visitors. It’s as if they called out to each other for a pronouncement. It’s as if a declaration that the pandemic is not a death sentence, indeed; that with collaborative efforts to protect Tañon and its inhabitants, we resuscitate the economy and move forward --- ermm, swim forward -- like dolphins designed to survive in pods and in their perfect buddy system. Cebuanos helping fellow Cebuanos.

The activity is not yet open to the public, and may take part soon of the tour packages to be available only through a provincial online booking portal now under construction.

The tour was intended for key workers or frontliners, media partners and information officers, some of them on “first-time high” when it comes to dolphin encounters.

Thus, the technical assistance and guidance of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is key to better understanding of Tañon Strait Protected Seascape as the “largest marine protected area in the Philippines” and that along with this blessing is great responsibility in stewardship. (Eleanor Valeros)