All photos published on Facebook. The page where they were originally posted has been deleted, but they have been reposted on many others.
 
A photo of a girl standing on top of a whale shark has become the target of widespread criticism on social networks in the Philippines.
 
Whale sharks are protected species in the Philippines, and are listed by the International Union on the Conservation of Nature as a vulnerable species.
 
After the photo was posted on Facebook on March 31, Internet users began investigating the matter, and soon revealed that the photo was taken in the small coastal town of Boljoon, in southern Cebu island, where the girl lives. (Local media confirmed this.) Numerous other locals also posed with the whale shark, which was stranded near the beach, its tail tied with a rope. One fisherman explained that it had gotten caught in fish nets, so they had dragged the animal to shallow waters to untangle it, but not before snapping a few pictures.
 
The people pictured in the photographs have said they did not know touching whale sharks was wrong. The girl who had stood on the animal apologised publicly. The town's mayor, meanwhile, promised this would not happen again.
 
Whale shark watching is a booming tourist attraction on the island of Cebu; locals have gotten into the habit of feeding the animals to attract them to the water's surface. Environmentalists worry that this practice could negatively affect the giant fish, as they can become dependent on handouts.