Rare Pink Dolphins Reappear In Hong Kong as Pandemic Slows Marine Traffic – Insiderfolks, but scientists remain highly worried about their long-term survival in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes.
Naomi Brennan is alerted to the existence of a local Chinese white dolphin by a tell-tale flash of pink leaps from the waters, and points the direction of the mammal to a GPS device.
Conservationists such as Brennan frequently sail on vessels in the Pearl River Delta to record how mammals, known for their eye-catching pink colouring, fare.
“Today we have seen three separate classes of dolphins-six adults and two sub-adults,” she said. “We have been involved in a number of activities, from eating to driving and socialising.”
For years, keeping watch on the dolphins was a disheartening job. Over the last 15 years , the population has dropped by 70-80 per cent in what is one of the most industrialised estuaries in the world.
But this year, their figures have come back-and they have a pandemic to thank for.
Ferries between Hong Kong and Macau have been suspended since February, presenting local marine scientists with an opportunity to research how mammals have adapted to “unprecedented silence”
“We’ve seen much bigger group sizes and much more socialising, breeding activity that we haven’t seen in the last five years or so,” said Dr. Lindsay Porter, a marine scientist based in Hong Kong.
According to Porter’s research unit, the number of pink dolphins in those waters has risen by around a third since March.
“These areas tend to be critical for eating and socialising, so it’s nice there’s a shelter for them,” said Brennan, a member of the Porter team.
The Pearl River Delta is one of the most industrialised marine regions on Earth. Like Hong Kong and Macau, China’s mainland megacity, like Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Dongguan, is home to some 22 million residents.
Apart from heavy shipping, the main habitat of the dolphins has experienced a number of significant changes, including the construction of Hong Kong’s reclaimed land airport and the longest sea bridge in the world linking the financial centre to Macau and Zhuhai.
A big new remedial scheme is also underway to construct a third runway for the city’s airport.
According to the WWF, there are only an estimated 2,000 pink dolphins remaining in the Pearl River Delta-the minimum amount that conservationists claim is required to preserve the population.
There is a palpable concern that the delta dolphins may be extinct with the present course of the species.
“The dolphins, and particularly these estuarine dolphins, have a slow rate of birth, a slow rate of development, a slow rate of reproduction,” said Laurence McCook, head of ocean conservation at WWF-Hong Kong.
“And they need very good management.” The absence of ferries is a welcome but probably short-lived respite for the dolphins. Noise from boats disturbs mammals that rely on underwater sound for navigation and communication purposes.
Ships also pose a physical threat to the animals, hurting them, and occasionally killing them.
The rocky southern coast of Hong Kong’s outlying Lantau Island offers protection from typhoons and dolphin predators.
But it’s also where the ferries fly between Macau and the financial centre.
Conservationists are fighting to extend the current marine park in order to help protect endangered species.
“We have now found a sanctuary that could then be restored and could actually be used to sustain their species,” said Brennan, who claims that recent discoveries could provide conservationists with an opportunity to “turn the tide” of endangered dolphin populations.
“The fact that we’ve had such a drastic transition, even though it’s still early days, with just one of those impacts going away is a very good turn.”
Yet the McCook WWF warns the time is running out for the dolphins.
“They’re the area’s symbol,” he said. “They are part of the Cantonese roots. They’ve been around here for decades.”
“It will be a worldwide shame to lose this emblematic creature from the future of the Greater Bay Area.”
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