Visitors to this city’s burial ground learn more from the dead, particularly about the whale shark and other endangered sea creatures.
The 12-year-old “fish cemetery” of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has become a field school all year round, even to the curious, according to Westly Rosario, chief of the agency’s National Integrated Fisheries Technology Development Center here.
“Visitors would ask questions about the species buried here and how they died, thus helping in creating awareness about protecting sea creatures,” Rosario said.
In a way, the 1,300-square-meter grave site inside the BFAR compound has been helping marine creatures live by educating fishermen and residents of coastal communities on the need to care for them.
Fishermen used to slaughter stranded whales and dolphins, and sell their meat, Rosario said. They now bring lost dolphins and whales to the BFAR for treatment or call its personnel to help them, he said.
“The awareness on protecting the endangered species is high now. Fishermen no longer catch and butcher whale sharks and dolphins which have, in recent years, come to feed and frolic in the Lingayen Gulf, especially during summer,” Rosario said.
Some people also buy marine creatures in the market, but they turn them over to the center, he said.
“Now, most of the time when there are giant fish species seen in the Lingayen Gulf or other areas, the BFAR gets calls from concerned residents about their presence. We get reports about sick or wounded creatures. We also get requests to bury the dead creatures at the cemetery,” he said.
Creatures found dead in coastal areas or those that were badly hurt and died while being treated are buried at the BFAR cemetery.
They also deserve a visit, a flower and a candle perhaps, when people remember their departed loved ones during All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Rosario said.
At least 19 sea creatures from coastal areas in Pangasinan, La Union and Bulacan province, and from Manila Bay are buried at the fish cemetery. Ten were long-snouted spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) and three were Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus).
A species each of a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), a dwarf sperm whale (Kogia simus), bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatos), minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), whale shark (Rhincodon typus) and giant sea turtle are also buried there.
The cemetery covered only 80 sq. m. when it was opened in February 1999 to accommodate its first occupant—Moby Dick, a 1.2-ton sperm whale from Malabon City in Metro Manila.
The area was expanded when more dead sea creatures were taken here for burial.
The cemetery now has a gazebo where photographs and information about the occupants are posted for visitors to read.
“[We offer these to visitors] for them to better appreciate efforts to protect and conserve endangered species,” Rosario said.
On March 8, 2000, a mass burial was held for five spinner dolphins killed by fishermen in Sabangan village here.