Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Now for a Limited Time Only in Hong Kong--Pink Dolphins


Copyright: Ken Fung, Hong Kong Dolphinwatch

Copyright: Ken Fung, Hong Kong Dolphinwatch
As you can see from the photos, there are bubblegum pink dolphins on this planet. Some live in the Amazon. Some live in China. The latter are known as Chinese white dolphins, (because they can be white or pink), and they are rare. Only about 2000 are thought to inhabit the South China Sea. Those found in Hong Kong reside only in the western waters around Lantau Island where I also live. And yes, I have seen them.

An ad I came across recently for a popular Lantau dolphin boat cruise could have been written by a side show carny, "Be amazed! These dolphins, found between Hong Kong and Macau, live within a few km of one of the world's busiest shopping centers and most densely populated urban areas."

 But maybe not for long. Back in 2000, the number in Hong Kong was estimated at 213. Chinese white dolphins belong to the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinesis) species. Researcher T. Jefferson optimistically wrote in Wildlife Monographs, "Overall, the population of humpbacked dolphins that occurs in Hong Kong waters appears viable and should be able to survive with appropriate conservation efforts."

On June 6, 2012, The South China Morning Post reported that Hong Kong's pink dolphin numbers have gone down almost continuously during the past decade. There are now only 78.

Are the dolphins leaving because they don't like shopping? According to the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society (, perhaps indirectly. Lots of shopping means more people who require boat and high speed ferry transport to the stores on the various islands that comprise Hong Kong. This traffic makes so much underwater noise, the dolphins can no longer cope.

The Conservation Society chairman, Dr. Samuel Hung Ka-yiu says, "Dolphins are acoustic creatures that rely on sound to detect their environment, search for food, and communicate." Since dolphin moms and babies maintain contact by communicating through sound, "the babies may wander off and get lost when it's too noisy."

We humans don't hear well underwater. When we submerge our heads, the ocean seems silent because our ears are designed to hear in air and have little sensitivity to the medium of water. Dolphins on the other hand, hear very well underwater. Hearing is their most finely tuned sense.

 Perhaps the following tale helps illustrate. Not long ago, the school where I work as a counselor in Hong Kong had a talent show. During the month prior to the event, students aspiring to perform as heavy metal rockers amped up and played in the music practice rooms directly beneath my office.  The walls are thin in my school, so for weeks, items danced around on my desk and the windows of my office rattled. I could not hear my phone when it rang.

 In order to get away from the sound, sometimes I went someplace quieter--like to the train station across the street. Unfortunately, escaping to the station is not an option for dolphins.

 Like my office, not only are the territorial waters of Hong Kong loud, they are highly contaminated with heavy metal. The difference being that the metal is mercury. Unlike my office, there is also sewage waste discharge. Hong Kong in recent years is said to have dumped 120 million gallons of semi-processed sewage a day into its harbors.

 Having such total disregard for dolphins is odd considering that human beings claim to like them.  Nor is this affection a recent fad. Over the centuries, many friendly and helpful deeds have been ascribed to the creatures.

Stories of dolphins protecting humans from sharks, preventing struggling human swimmers from drowning, and rescuing sailors or ships in trouble, recur often in the folklore of many cultures, including that of the Chinese.

Some of the earliest stories about dolphins appear in Greek mythology. Apollo, for example, was said to have assumed the form of a dolphin when he founded the oracle at Delphi. Along with the Romans, the Greeks considered dolphins to be messengers of the gods. The ancients thought it was a terrible crime to harm a dolphin--one that brought dreadful luck to the human who had committed it.

It wasn't just the ancients who thought this. A more modern and documented tale of Pelorus Jack describes a Risso dolphin who, in the early twentieth century, guided ships through a dangerous stretch of the Cook Strait at the northern tip of the South Island of New Zealand. As soon as ships arrived in the treacherous water, Jack appeared and guided the vessels through. He departed once the ships had made safe passage.

One day in 1904, a drunk passenger on the SS Penguin shot at Jack as the dolphin was guiding it.  Fortunately, Jack was unharmed and fled. Weeks later, he appeared and resumed guiding ships. But Jack refused to guide the Penguin ever again and in 1909, it wrecked in the rocky strait.

So what is to become of us humans--we who kill dolphins on a grand scale, including the amazing bubble gum pink ones? The gods don't like it when their messengers are killed.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Connie. I just found out about the Pink Dolphin from watching a new documentary called Rivers of Life on PBS. Thank you for sharing the story and pictures about them.