The Starfish of Hong Kong, Part 3

Cholcolate Chip Starfish (Nidorella armata)

image by Steve Ryan, cc-by-sa 2.0.

Nidorellia armata is also known as the chocolate chip star which leads to confusion with Protoreaster nodosus which is also know as the cholcolate chip starfsih in english. It has a diameter of about 23 cm and lives on rocky surfaces with algae and seagrass at depths of 5 – 70 m. They feed on small invertebrates and algae which they digest externally by turning their stomachs inside out  and covering their prey with it. They are found in tropical waters clinging on corals and rocky reefs.

Sand Star (Archaster typicus)

image by Rie Tan cc-by-sa 2.0 .

It is found in shallow waters in the western Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific , incouding the Maldive Islands, the Bay of Bengal, Singapore, northern Australia, New Caledonia, the Philippines, China, southern Japan and Hawaii. It usually occurs in areas of the seabed with soft sediments such as sand, silt and seagrass meadows at depths down to 60 m. Larvae settle among mangroves and the young adult individuals gradually move to seagrass and sandy habitats as they age.  It eats detritus and anything edible it comes across by everting its stomach through its mouth and on to its food item. The food is then engulfed and brought inside the starfish where the stomach is returned to its normal position.

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Stingray Spooked by Approaching Ferry at Discovery Bay

Spotted this by chance. A stingray at the ferry pier in Discovery Bay, Lantau. An approaching ferry spooked it and it fled to the rocks under the pier in shallow water. Click here for my page on rays in Hong Kong.

The Starfish of Hong Kong, Part 2

Blue Linckia (Linckia laevigata)

Blue Linckia via WikiCommons cc-by-sa 3.0

Ranges in color morphs from dark or light blue, but also observed as aqua, purple, or even orange variations throughout the ocean. Grows up to 30 cm in diameter and has rounded arm tips. Some individuals can have lighter or darker spots along their arms. They are typically firm in texture and have slightly tubular arms with short, yellowish tube feet on the underside. It inhabits coral reefs and sea grass beds. They occur subtidally, sometimes intertidally, on fine sand or hard surfaces and move quite slowly .

Cushioning Star (Culcita nouvaeguineae)

via WikiCommons (Shizhao, cc-by-sa-2.5)

The cushion star has very short arms and an inflated appearance, resembling a pentagonal pincushion. Its colour is variable and it occurs in tropical warm waters in the Indo-Pacific. It ranges from Madagascar and the Seychelles to the Philippines, New Guinea, Australia and Hawaii.  It feeds on detritus and small invertebrates, including stony corals.

The Starfish of Hong Kong, Part 1

Crown-of-Thornes (Acanthaster planci)

Crown-of-Thornes starfish

The crown-of-thorns starfish is a large starfish with many arms that preys on hard coral. Its name comes from the venomous thorny spines covering its upper surface – meant to resemble the crown of thorns put on Jesus before his crucifiction. This is one of the largest starfish and has a very wide distribution in the Indian and Pacific Oceans at tropical and subtropical latitudes where coral reefs or hard coral communities occur.

The venom of the starfish contains so-called asterosaponins which have detergent-like properties. The brittle spines can perforate the skin of a predator or unwary diver and tissue containing the venom is lodged into the resulting wound. In humans this immediately causes a sharp, stinging pain lasting several hours, with persistent bleeding aided the venom as well as nausea, tissue swelling lasting for a week or more. Breaking of the spines means they become embedded in the tissue where they require surgically removal.

Peppermint Sea Star (Fromia monilis)

The peppermint sea star can grow to a diameter of about 30 centimetres. Its arm tips and the central disc are bright red, while the other parts are paler, forming large plates. The color, plates and other features can be very variable and identification from photographs can be difficult. It feeds on encrusting spongess, detritus and small invertebrates. Occurs in shallow water in rocky environment, at a depth of 0 – 51 m.

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!

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