Age didn’t stop Francisco Vergara from saving a trapped dolphin in Badoc, Ilocos Norte. Setting out on his tiny bangka at 3 AM last 18 June, the 63-year old fisherman came across an unusual sight – enmeshed in a fishing net between the villages of Pagsanaan Sur and Pagsanaan Norte was an adult rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis), struggling for life.
The senior citizen wasted no time – alerting authorities which quickly pooled resources to release the animal by 9:45 AM. For his honourable actions, the Philippine arm of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) recently recognized him as its latest Hero of the Environment. Mayor Arlene Torralba, Vice-mayor Tom Torralba and WWF-Philippines Conservation Programmes Vice-president Joel Palma recognized Vergara in a simple ceremony at the Municipal Session Hall of Badoc last 25 July.
“WWF’s Heroes of the Environment programme was launched in 2009 to reward individuals that show decisive environmental action,” explains Palma. “Counting Vergara, WWF has awarded a total of 16 people – ranging from a shy eight-year old that helped save a wounded risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus) in Mindoro to highly-acclaimed dolphin and peace mural artist AG Saño, who painted over 30,000 dolphins to protest both the annual killing of dolphins in Japan, plus the keeping of dolphins in captivity. To date, Vergara is our oldest awardee.”
Whales and Dolphins in the Philippines
Most Filipinos are unaware that the country is a hotbed for whales and dolphins. Twenty eight – a full third of all known cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) species – have been recorded in Philippine waters as of 2013.
Cetaceans which ply our waters include the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) – made famous by the 1851 novel Moby Dick, the killer whale (Orcinus orca) – biggest of the dolphins and star of the 1993 film Free Willy, and the massive blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) – the largest creature on Earth, reaching lengths of 100 feet.
Though all cetacean species are protected under Philippine Republic Act (RA) 9147, their incidental capture or bycatch remains a serious and pervasive threat. WWF has been collaborating with leading Filipino marine mammal experts and conservationists to reduce fisheries bycatch and conduct marine mammal training programs with local governments, coastal communities and private sector allies since 1997.
Concludes Palma, “Despite being a senior citizen, Mr. Vergara not only made his country proud – he saved a life. We hope that others can follow his example.”
For more information, contact:
Mr. Joel Palma
Conservation Programmes Vice-president, WWF-Philippines
Mr. Gregg Yan