20 Mar2012

I recently wrote about swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, and there was a bit of controversy in the comments section regarding the practice of feeding the sharks with baby shrimp or uyap. I also mentioned in one of my comments that I would soon be headed to El Nido, and that I expected that they still fed their “pet” jacks or talakitoks there, as they have been for many, many years… So here I am photographed at El Nido, happily swimming in close quarters with fairly ginormous black and silver jacks in 3-4 feet of water, just off the docks of the resort.

The resident jacks range up to roughly 30 kilos in weight, and are even more humongous looking when seen through the lenses of your mask! It’s the most amazing thing to bob up and down in such shallow water, and have a dozen or so jacks swim within such close proximity. They are “pets” for all intents and purposes, and are fed twice daily by resort staff. They know exactly what time to turn up in the morning before the 845am feeding, and hang around until after the 10am feeding, after which they head off to the deep and terrorize some hapless sea creature that will make up part of their diet for the day. It’s a fish eat fish world out there.

The Teen and a friend joined me in the water, and they too were amazed by the number, size and proximity of the fish. Perhaps some 80-100 tourists experience these jacks (and various relatives) every single day, and have for perhaps 10-20 years running, so 350,000-500,000 folks have enjoyed the interaction with fish, and the jacks got squid and fish in exchange. The jacks are free to head off whenever they want, and no one harms them or eats them. Frankly, I can’t find much fault with the practice at all. Better to enjoy them in their natural habitat than eat them grilled in a nearby restaurant…

So of course, in a oddly serendipitous fashion that just seems almost trademark Marketman, as I prepared to hit the water, I recognized the voice of a friend getting off a speedboat nearby. Turns out it was a member of the Board of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Philippines, and the group had just had a meeting at the resort, so I ran into several other board members, several of whom are friends. The talk inevitably turned to the recent marketmanila.com post on feeding whale sharks and suffice it to say that while it remains controversial, I can’t categorically agree that the negatives of feeding the animals (and potential impact to migration patterns if any) far outweigh the positive economic and environentally positive benefits that accrue to the town of Oslob, its residents, and the citizens of Cebu that are now much more aware about the importance of SAVING whale sharks and other vulnerable and endangered species…

Other discussions tipped on the issues of zoos, feeding other types of animals in the wild, eating any food from the wild for that matter, farmed food, etc. and it was extremely interesting. I maintain that I will continue to eat fish caught in the wild until the point that they appear on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable or endangered or critically endangered. If you are curious about the classifications, head here to read more, and use the terms “endangered” more accurately…

Here, one of the guests feeding the jacks from the wharf at Miniloc.

I applaud all efforts to save wild animals from extinction and to keep their populations at healthy (whatever that means) levels, but I also think there are other far graver issues that must be addressed with respect to overpopulation, use of natural resources, sustainability, etc. that affect not only endangered species but a whole lot of other things. If the world had a population of 1 billion (or what it was in approximately 1800, or even 1.6 billion in 1900) vs. 7 billion we have today, we would be hot and bothered about other things…

The jacks jostling for a choice squid thrown to them. They get rather aggressive and you wouldn’t want to be in the water and in the middle of the fray if some mischievous kid with cartoon like evil grin plops a juicy squid a foot in front of you in the water… Underwater, the jacks can look rather bitchy if you ask me, with pretty large mouths and teeth bared… but they kept at least a foot distance while we swam amongst them.

We were told the silvery or lighter colored jacks were younger than the black ones…

…but to me they seemed almost similar in heft and size. So maybe age simply manifests itself in skin color? Not sure about that.

The jacks like to travel in groups of at least 3 or more it seems. While swimming over deeper waters, a few would dart up from the deep, it was slightly unnerving, particularly if you imagined they knew you ate several hundred of their relatives in the past decade or so.

I managed to snap a few underwater shots with a disposable Kodak camera, cool huh?, and that’s what you see in this post. At PHP520 or so for the disposable camera, purchased in Manila, it was totally worth it to bring back a few underwater photos. Don’t wait till you get to the resort to buy a camera, they cost three times as much in the gift shop there. :)

I was thrilled to have graded lenses for my mask and snorkeled for hours, fascinated by the abundance of wildlife and corals within a stone’s throw of the resort or nearby beaches. I was dying to see a turtle in the sea but wasn’t so lucky…

Mrs. MM took this snapshot of MM in “pain in the neck” life vest… bobbing in shallow waters.

Three talakitoks that appeared out of the deep swimming straight up at me before darting sideways…

…I managed to snap this shot of the fish, checking me out, probably thinking… “arrgh, another middle-aged lard tub”. Hahaha.

But let’s get real. These guys make great eating and are a personal favorite. Here, a photo of a pretty senior talakitok photographed at a Coron market several years ago. This one was roughly 12-14 kilos or so, half the size of the Darth Vader-like jacks at Miniloc!



  1. Farida says:

    MM, am just in awe of the size of that talakitok in the last picture, the ones at Miniloc must be humongous!!!

    Mar 20, 2012 | 2:54 pm


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  3. David B says:

    After reading your post, I want to drop everything and fly to El Nido. I love your blog

    Mar 20, 2012 | 4:03 pm

  4. Alan says:

    Just an FYI, keeping a species at a healthy level means there are enough genetically robust and different individuals to keep the population from inbreeding. If a population is severely inbred then extinction will happen very rapidly due to very low numbers of offspring that will survive into adulthood, let alone breeding age. The Cheetah for example, the world’s fastest animal, still has a few hundred individuals surviving but most of them are closely related genetically. As a consequence, many of their offspring will have genetic diseases, or will be prone to illness or be deformed. Most of them will simply not make it to maturity. The Cheetah population is in steep decline now and will soon be extinct. The worst thing about it is that even with all our technology and know-how and hundred of millions of dollars spent, it is already a foregone conclusion that the Cheetah will be extinct, in some estimates, within our lifetime. That is the same situation with many species and many, many other species are in danger of reaching that point as well.
    As the whale shark feeding controversy, for me that is fine. Those few kilos a day is nothing compared to the tons of food they eat everyday. It is merely a treat to them, much like the doggie treats we give our dogs. They come because its a sure easy snack and not because they only survive on our dole outs. The only danger is that they become too accustomed to boats and will get injured, much like the problem with the matinees in the US. I only don’t approve of feeding potential man eaters like other sharks and lions. Because in the long run, if they see as food sources and loose their fear of us, then we may find ourselves regularly on their dinner menu. The feeders are putting others at risk.
    Well, that’s my two cents worth of opinions and knowledge. I hope I did not bore you too much.

    Mar 20, 2012 | 4:41 pm

  5. corrine says:

    MM, graded lens for your mask? Which optical shop makes that? Pretty cool for a myopic like me. Nice photos!

    Mar 20, 2012 | 4:59 pm

  6. Marketman says:

    Corrine, even better, top resorts like El Nido and Amanpulo seem to stock lenses that they pop into their house masks as needed! I got my graded mask from a dive shop, speedo has graded googles as well… Mrs. MM was able to have a mask “made” for her at El Nido, and they didn’t charge anything for its temporary use… Alan, yes, I think we are on the same wavelength… We have a pet dog, have had an aquarium, and have visited zoos, wear leather and buy shagreen, so I can’t be on the end of the spectrum that advocates not affecting any animals at all…

    Mar 20, 2012 | 5:41 pm

  7. RGL says:

    This reminded me of feeding the sting rays at Grand Cayman, exhiting but scarry as some of the stingays we’re as big as 6 feet..they became domesticated as tourist comes in every morning to feed them, they would eat from your hand and they know what time the tourist comes in to feed them early am -but after the tourist leaves -they go back to the deep ocean………

    Mar 20, 2012 | 7:33 pm

  8. Rhea says:

    arrgh, another middle-aged lard tub. Hahaha. –> totally love this one! lol

    Mar 20, 2012 | 8:37 pm

  9. millet says:

    “particularly if you imagined they knew you ate several hundred of their relatives in the past decade or so” ….hahaha…very MM! great pics, and great experience, MM!

    and yes, i’m all for protecting habitats and species and all that, but i’m all for good eating too!

    Mar 20, 2012 | 9:28 pm

  10. britelite says:

    it was good that they shifted from bread to food that the fishes normally hunt to eat–

    Mar 20, 2012 | 10:17 pm

  11. natie says:

    another inspiring post, MM–you inspired the Europe trip, now this one is just ‘next door’…one day. maybe in June..I’ll be back..

    Mar 20, 2012 | 10:30 pm

  12. Footloose says:

    Do not know if fish can sense it but dogs can. The dog butcher in my town could not go anywhere without barking dogs heralding and trailing him.

    Re mini contest, the participants’ volunteered info and my mirror confirmed my query with “you’re still the oldest of them all.”

    Mar 20, 2012 | 11:01 pm

  13. natie says:

    will you get a prize, Footloose? maybe I’ll get second place…we could still swim with the Jacks…

    Mar 20, 2012 | 11:20 pm

  14. Footloose says:

    Not expecting one Natie, unless Marketman has the equivalent to the Oscar’s Lifetime Achievement Award ha ha.

    Mar 20, 2012 | 11:47 pm

  15. Fred says:

    What a coincidence, some friends of mine who do christian missionary work talked about the sea life they encountered in an island in Quezon province. They said 20-30 kg talakitok were fairly common but the locals preferred the smaller sized ones because the meat was more tender. Anyone know if this is true? I’d assume the skin would be tougher but would the meat be less palatable if it came from an older and larger fish? If it is then it could explain why there are a lot of older fish come to that resort.

    Mar 21, 2012 | 3:42 am

  16. Marketman says:

    Fred, yes, the older ones probably are tougher. But you do find them at markets nonetheless. The younger ones are definitely preferable for eating I think… It would be great if we were all disciplined about leaving the older breeders alone… particularly for fish, crabs, etc. while only judiciously harvesting the young so that there are enough stocks left to produce more breeders… Footloose, if only silly lolo chimed in…

    Mar 21, 2012 | 5:06 am

  17. Mike says:

    I’m not sure what went on in your conversation, but I went to a WWF sanctioned trip to the Amazon jungle and in one jungle reserve we visited the naturalists didn’t have negative issues feeding the pecarries, river otters, capybaras, different species of monkeys, tapirs, etc. for the travellers to enjoy. And they did mention that food was being offered many times in the reserve for the animals, visitors or no visitors. Their priciple was that since this was a sanctuary, the animals should feel safe and secure.

    Mar 21, 2012 | 5:18 am

  18. Marketman says:

    Mike, there was a local press statement by a WWF representative a few weeks ago strongly AGAINST the feeding of Oslob whale sharks, that is what sparked the “debate” or “discussion” of sorts… but I am with you, there is feeding of wild animals in many parts of the world, and personally, I weigh the potential negatives with the potential benefits… In the Oslob example, what I like about the situation is that several hundred people on average get to experience seeing the whale sharks daily, there are large economic benefits to a small town and local fishermen, etc., they appear to be increasing aware that they must do the viewing in a safe and secure manner, with reduced risk of harm to animals, etc. — the viewing site is just 50-100 meters off shore, so many people can see the fish, and the more people that see them, the stronger the local feeling that they should be respected, saved, not killed, nor eaten as they have been in the past… BUT, they are fed, which is argued CAN affect their migration patterns even though the feed is probably less than 3% of what the fish would need to eat to survive, and the fish could be hurt by bumping up against bancas (all non-motorized now), or get annoyed with all the folks watching them…

    Mar 21, 2012 | 5:31 am

  19. betty q. says:

    I share you sentiments, MM…”If only Silly Lolo chimed in…”

    Ms. Nesting Grounds…how is your dad? WE MISS HIM TERRIBLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Mar 21, 2012 | 6:28 am

  20. betty q. says:

    MM…Silly Lolo is undergoing dialysis too! I do know how taxing it can be on the body for i visited my nephew recently who also undergoes dialysis 3x a week for 4 to 6 hours!

    Silly Lolo…I am coming to visit you and maybe pull your ponytail, too!

    Mar 21, 2012 | 6:44 am

  21. ami says:

    How about investing in an underwater camera or a waterproof camera case since you pretty much go to the beach often? A word of warning though, underwater cameras are not meant to be underwater for too long and must be resurfaced every 30 minutes or so.

    Mar 21, 2012 | 8:11 am

  22. Skye says:

    I was lucky to see a turtle at the small lagoon when I went to El Nido 6 years ago.

    So those fish are really big? I thought it was just an optical illusion of sorts :-)

    Mar 21, 2012 | 11:22 am

  23. marissewalangkaparis says:

    Wow!! i love these photos…thanks MM…I can feel the sea breeze and the sea water….

    Mar 21, 2012 | 7:20 pm

  24. Mckalin says:

    We were in Lagen 2010, my daughter loved feeding the fishes and the snorkeling with schools of fishes, sometimes it was scary because it was like you’re confronted with a seawall of fishes? There was an island near the resort where we were even bitten by fishes, nipped actually. All in all it was a different kind of experience when you’re faced with such humongous fishes. My daughter even saw one of those dangerous sea creatures in that area (Miniloc) that they show to their guests so she and our guide had to leave the water immediately.

    Mar 21, 2012 | 8:40 pm

  25. Eileen says:

    I love El Nido Resorts! :) It’s more fun in Miniloc! :)

    Mar 22, 2012 | 12:16 am

  26. Footloose says:

    Quote Skye “So those fish are really big? I thought it was just an optical illusion of sorts…”

    It is not as a lure that Marketman himself is included in the top pic, it is just so any reader can scale (as in calibrate) the actual size of the fish.

    Mar 22, 2012 | 2:54 am

  27. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    MM, Is this the former Club Noah Isabelle? They not only had the Jacks, but several turtles (and several other fishes) as well. And when we were there (over a decade ago), we missed a visiting whale shark (almost the size of the resort yatch dock off-shore) by a couple of weeks.

    Mar 22, 2012 | 8:16 am

  28. Marketman says:

    Artisan, no, Club Noah, WAS purchased by El Nido, and renamed APULIT, but Miniloc is on the other side of the tip of Palawan… Footloose…hahaha.

    Mar 22, 2012 | 10:23 am

  29. Jelo says:

    So are jacks/talakitok/trevally one and the same fish?

    Mar 22, 2012 | 9:05 pm

  30. Marketman says:

    jelo, yes, they are… but slightly different characteristics and taste based on where they thrived… Australia, Philippines, etc…

    Mar 23, 2012 | 11:54 am

  31. Risa says:

    “I applaud all efforts to save wild animals from extinction and to keep their populations at healthy (whatever that means) levels, but I also think there are other far graver issues that must be addressed with respect to overpopulation, use of natural resources, sustainability, etc. that affect not only endangered species but a whole lot of other things.”

    HEAR, HEAR. And in a shameless pitch to an issue I believe in– NO TO MINING IN PALAWAN.

    Let that can of worms be opened.

    Mar 23, 2012 | 12:32 pm

  32. PITS, MANILA says:

    That’s one big talakitok! And those pics show great fun, MM!

    Mar 23, 2012 | 11:54 pm

  33. Royjen says:

    Quite impressive! We catch them on our charters from Sabang to El Nido, but so far not as big as these.

    Mar 27, 2012 | 6:07 pm

  34. James says:

    Hi MM, do you remember which store in Manila you purchased the disposable camera? I can’t seem to find it :( Thanks!

    Feb 18, 2013 | 5:14 pm


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