Outrage over Miss Universe candidates swimming with endangered whale sharks

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LOOK: Miss Universe candidates go whale watching in Oslob, Cebu

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Controversy shrouded the visit of the 12 Miss Universe 2016 candidates to Oslob, Cebu on Tuesday.

One of their activities was to watch the endangered whale sharks or butanding. Miss Universe-Philippines Maxine Medina was also photographed swimming with a whale shark.

Environmentalists and past beauty queens expressed their outrage, saying the Miss Universe pageant organizers made an unethical choice of having the contestants swim with whale sharks.

The said tourist attraction has been controversial due to the negative impact on the animals caused by human interaction. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the butanding as an endangered species. It reported last July that the "growing human pressure" on whale sharks are putting the species at an increasing risk of extinction.

The visit to watch and swim with the whale sharks was coordinated with the municipality of Oslob.

Miss Earth Philippines 2006 Catherine Untalan-Vital tells CNN Philippines, swimming with the whale sharks is promoting a long-criticized practice and should not be considered eco-tourism.

"All eyes are on the Philippines as the candidates of Miss Universe tour the country. But why do we need to promote a much-contested activity (i.e. whale shark watching in Oslob) when it has been criticized for so many years now. That is not eco-tourism. We are promoting a wrong practice. While it is an attractive photo, it is a picture that sends the wrong message. I hope somebody can enlighten their team on this," she said.

Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines also issued a statement, calling on the public to sign an online petition against the activity.

The Department of Tourism released a statement Tuesday, but withdrew it shortly after. Tourism officials will instead address the issue in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

CNN Philippines correspondent Isabella Montano contributed to this report.