MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Faced with sharply decreasing numbers of whale sharks and manta rays, the Philippine government has banned killing or selling them.
Agriculture Secretary Salvador Escudero signed a directive Wednesday ordering the ban and imposing fines or prison terms up to four years for offenders.
Both species, whose meat is considered a delicacy, have not been officially declared as endangered, but their numbers have dropped significantly in recent years because of growing demand.
Whale sharks _ a spotted, egg-laying shark _ thrive on plankton in warm seas and can grow to up to 45 feet long. Mantas are giant rays with wing-like fins that also feed on plankton.
President Fidel Ramos promised earlier this week that officials will investigate reports that whale sharks are being caught and butchered openly in the eastern Philippines.