Rare pink dolphins return to Hong Kong waters after coronavirus locking stopped ferry traffic
- The sight of vulnerable Chinese white dolphins has increased by 30% since March
- Boat and ferry travel were first suspended in the region in the same month
- With the calm of water travel, scientists have been able to study how dolphins respond to noise
Observations of rare pink dolphins in Hong Kong waters have skyrocketed since the shutdown of coronavirus stopped ferry routes in the region.
The Indo-Pacific dolphins – also known as Chinese white dolphins and pink dolphins – are moving back to parts of the Pearl River Delta off Hong Kong.
Their numbers have risen by up to 30 percent since March, when ferry traffic was suspended due to coronavirus lock-in.
Rare pink dolphins return to Hong Kong thanks to locking of coronavirus that stops ferry traffic on parts of Pearl River Delta
Undated handout photo of two Chinese white dolphins in waters near Hong Kong. Dolphin numbers in the delta have risen by up to 30 percent since March, researchers said
The dolphins once avoided the area due to the boat traffic between Hong Kong and Macau.
Marine scientist Lindsay Porter, who has been studying dolphins near Hong Kong for three decades, said: ‘What we have noticed since the ferries have stopped in this area are dolphins that we had not seen in four, five, six years are back in Hong Kong habitat.
‘It looks very fast that the dolphins have returned to this waterway.’
‘Normally this whole area would be filled with fast ferries that take people from Hong Kong to Macau and back again,’ Porter added.
‘Since the Covid pandemic started in Macau and many areas have had limited travel, fast ferries have stopped. And these waters have become very, very calm. ‘
Lust in water traffic has given researchers a rare opportunity to investigate how underwater noise affected the behavior of dolphins.
From a small dinghy, Porter and her team throw microphones into the water and use drones to look for dolphins.
The study suggests that the dolphins had adapted more quickly than expected to the quiet environment and that the population would likely return when such stressors were removed, Porter said.
Scientists believe there are about 2,000 dolphins in the entire Pearl River estuary.
Marine scientist Lindsay Porter (pictured) said that the lull in water traffic in the waters near Hong Kong has given scientists a unique opportunity to study how dolphins react to sound underwater
A Hong Kong government survey from 2019 showed that only about 52 dolphins entered the waters around the Asian financial hub, but Porter believes the real number may be slightly higher.
‘I sometimes feel like we’re studying the slow death of this population, which can be really sad,’ she said.
Although the decline of this population could not be stopped, research could still help other dolphin populations elsewhere, she said.
Hong Kong’s conservation plans have focused on opening sea parks where shipping is restricted but not banned. Three of these areas are frequented by dolphins.
Hong Kong’s WWF, a conservation group, and Porter said such measures were inadequate as dolphins were still at risk of being hit by ferries as they moved between the protected areas.
‘This means that if we had a comprehensive management plan in Hong Kong with more effective conservation measures, we could possibly quickly stop the decline in the dolphin population,’ she said.