Whale Watching in Hong Kong’s Temples

Whale watching in Hong Kong is more of a forensic affair based on dead bodies. I am not talking about strandings of dolphins or whales. I am talking about whale bones lurking in dark corners of temples in Southern China, specifically Hong Kong.

Though large whales may occasionally pass through Hong Kong, most of them seem to only show up as carcasses washed in by tide and current. Even this is fairly rare. In the historical past when a dead or dying whale washed up in Hong Kong, it was often a big social and commercial event, because the whales carcass could be hacked apart to extract anything useful. Most notably the blubber could be boiled down to cooking oil and lamp oil.  All that was left at the end was the skeleton. And the bones were sometimes kept and displayed in temples.

It’s not been easy finding information on the role that whales played in Chinese culture in the past. Certainly there is no great tradition of whaling in China as there was in Japan – at least as far as I can see. One interesting tidbit I found refers to the famous “first emperor of China” – Qin Shi Huang (259–210 BC) who founded the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC) and who had the Terracotta Army built. His mausoleum, which was rediscovered in the 1990s twenty-two miles east of Xi’an, contained candles made from whale fat [blubber].

However, there are plenty of examples of whale bones in Hong Kong temples.

Tin Hau Temple, Peng Chau

I visited this temple not too long ago and saw that it has 2 large whale ribs ( about 1.8m in length). I don’t know the species, but for those interested there is a plaque explaining the bones in the temple as far as I remember.

A large blackened rib of a whale leaning against the right wall between the altar and the statue.

Yeung Hau Temple, Tai O

Although dedicated to Hau Wong, the temple also hosts some other gods including Hung Shing (the god of the sea) which explains the whale vertebrae and sawfish snouts kept next to his altar.

hau-wong-temple-tai-o
The bill of a sawfish leaning against the altar on the left wall with some whale vertebrae in front.

Kwan Tai Temple, Tai O

I actually found no information on the whale bones at this temple on the internet. But as I saw them for myself and took the below picture, I include this temple in this list.

Whale vertebrae and an explanatory plaque st Kwan Tai Temple, Tai O

Tam Kung Miu Temple, Coloane, Macau

The temple is dedicated to Tam Kung, the Taoist god of sailors and houses a four-foot replica of a dragon boat made from whale bone  (most likely a rib) – complete with wooden sailors in red robes and yellow hats.

The dragon boat made of whale bone (rib)
The dragon boat made of whale bone (rib) with a piece of whale rib leaning against the wall behind it.

Pak Tai Temple, Cheung Chau

Contains some whale bone fragments which were dredged up in a fishermen’s trawl and then presented to the temple deity along with a few snouts of sawfish.

Another whale rib (covered in flaking red paint) leaning in the corner to the left of this minor altar.

Hau Wong Temple, Tung Chung

Hosts a ‘large whalebone’ which I have yet to see.

Tin Hau Temple, Yung Shue Wan, Lamma

In the temple exhibits an ancient whale skeleton that enshrines the Tin Hau. I have not seen it yet so I can not confirm this.

Tin Hau Temple, Sha Chau Island

Sha Chau is part of the marine park often dubbed ‘dolphin sanctuary’. Inside the Tin Hau temple on the island there is allegedly a four feet long model of a dragon boat made from whalebone, though I can not confirm this.

Another large whale rib in the Tin Hau Temple on Sha Chau Island

Tin Hau Temple, Sok Kwu Wan, Lamma Island

An oarfish ( a rare deep-sea dwelling fish) that was washed ashore is kept in preservatives in a tank on display at this temple.

sokkwuwan-oar-fish
While alive this deep-sea fish would have had radiant red-pink fins and a silver body.

If you know of any other temples in Hong Kong, Macao or the greater Guangdong area , please leave me a comment!

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Stranded Whale Rescued by Beachgoers in South China

According to the Southern Metropolis Daily, a dwarf sperm whale (Kogia simus) was stranded at a beach in Daya Bay on the 23rd of May. The report stated that over a dozen people joined in the rescue effort, using their hands to spread seawater over the cetacean to help moisten its skin before pushing the animal to deeper water. The animal eventually swam away on its own.

Staff at the Daya Bay Fisheries Provincial Nature Reserve Management Office said that dwarf sperm whales are “very rare” in the waters around Daya Bay. The species is known to generally live in deeper water near the continental shelf. The animal was noted to have red blotches and scars indicating disease or parasites.

on the 12 of May 2016 I posted about a dwarf or pygmy sperm whale that washed up dead at Sao Wan Ho (Hong Kong), click here for the blog post and images.

Chinese White dolphin seen in San Niang Wan sea area, Guangxi Province

Pictures published by Xinhuanet this week show a Chinese White Dolphin swimming in the San Niang Wan area of Guangxi, far west of Hong Kong.

Images posted here

Dolphins & Porpoise Found Dead During Lunar New Year

A dolphin concern group published on its social media page that one chinese white dolphin (Sousa chinensis) and four finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides) were found stranded between Saturday the 17th and Monday the 19th of February. Autopsy scans found food remains in the dolphins, showing they were not starved to death. However, they showed multiple fractures. It is feared they were hit by motorboats as they had injuries on their heads and necks.

One finless porpoise was almost cut in half by what is thought to have been a boat propeller.

The adult Chinese white dolphin was found stranded at Mo To Chau. It was a 2.5-meter female, at least 10 years old, and with signs of choking, bone fractures and serious bone dislocation. The death of an adult female is a great loss to the species’ population growth, with numbers in Hong Kong down from over 120 some years ago to 47 at present.

In the past three years there have only been 3-4 stranded cetaceans in tyhe months of January and February. This year, more than 10 dead cetaceans have been discovered in the same period.

High-speed boats are always a big threat to dolphins and some might be hit by propellers and never be discovered. The Dolphin Conservation Society of Hong Kong (HKDCS) has urged the government to launch a speed restrictions on boats around dolphin and porpoise habitats or even ban them from entering these areas.

According to the HKDCS only one new-born Chinese white dolphin was recorded last year. With the loss of another adult female dolphin, there is a dwindling chance of recovery of the local population.

Finless porpoise reported greed from fishing net on social media

A HK fishing groups social media account has reported a finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) being freed from a floating fishing net on the 18th of February.

It’s not clear who the net belonged to and how long the animal was trapped in it.

Source here

Finless Porpoise Stranded on Lantau

According to Around DB magazine a porpoise was found stranded at Palm Beach (presumably Cheung Sha Beach) on the 26th of October (2017). Judging from the images the dead animal looks to be a finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) and about 120 cm in length (adult).

Source: AroundDb

Rescued rare dolphin released back to sea

Xinhua reported on the 22nd of July (2017) that a rare rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis), named Jiangjiang, was released back to sea earlier this week, two months after it beached itself and was rescued in Guangdong Province.


The 2.2-meter male dolphin was found stranded on the coast of Heisha Bay near the city of Jiangmen (200 km west of Hong Kong) on May 3. It was suffering breathing troubles, according to Yang Naicai, a vet who joined the rescue operation.


Rescuers checked the dolphin’s breathing, gave an injection of antibiotics, and provided food and medicine to help it regain its strength.

The animal was housed in a pool designated for dolphin rescue at the Pearl River Estuary Chinese White Dolphin National Nature Reserve.


“We maintained round the clock monitoring, hoping for a miracle,” said Chen Hailiang, from the reserve.

The dolphin, which weighs around 100 kg, was released back to the sea on Thursday as its physical condition had returned to normal.

Although the rough-toothed dolphin, a national second class protected species, can be found in deep tropical, subtropical and temperate waters around the world, it is a rare visitor to Chinese coastal waters.

In 2014, a rough-toothed dolphin stranded in Guangdong died despite rescue efforts.