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.

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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.

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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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Dead Chinese White Dolphin Found in Macau

A Chinese white dolphin (Sousa chinensis) was found dead on the morning of the 19th of July (2017) floating in the sea near Cheoc Van beach in Coloane.

Local animal rights group Anima (Macau) was alerted to the presence of the deceased animal by a concerned citizen. Anima president, Albano Martins, speculated that the dolphin may have collided with a maritime vessel in the Pearl River Delta estuary.

The Anima president also said that Macau’s Marine and Water Bureau has retrieved the deceased animal and is arranging for the body to be disposed.

Sightings of dead dolphins off the coast of Macau are a relatively rare occurrence, but several have been documented in recent years.

The Macau Whale Stranding Febuary 3rd, 1933

Sometimes it is very amusing and interesting to realize how different we see the environment now in 2015 compared to our attitudes the last century. A case in point is this gem of a news article from 1933 about a 25-foot (7.6 m) whale that stranded in Macau. Today, we would go to extraordinary efforts and spare no cost to rescue the whale and help it out to sea. Back in 1933 attitudes were a bit different, however…

“Much excitement was created in the little fishing hamlet of Tsam Mang Chin, not far from the Macao Barrier Gate, when a whale, 25 feet long, drifted ashore and was left high and dry on the beach when the tide went out.
The villagers were all activity, when the monster was sighted, and measures were promptly taken to prevent its escape. The whale was soon dragged higher up the beach, where it was killed, and operations to convert the oil and remains into cash were immediately carried out.

All day long, villagers from the surrounding country trooped into the hamlet to buy the whale oil and the flesh until nothing was left of the monster excepting the bones.

A fee was later charged for viewing the skeleton.

Some idea of the size of the whale may be gathered from the fact that a thousand catties [500 kg] of oil and twice the amount of flesh were sold by the captors.”

(Hong Kong Telegraph February 3rd, 1933)

These days, however, a “big whale” in Macau refers to big-ticket casino gamblers from mainland China. But with the anti-corruption campaign ongoing in China, the new “big whales” seem to be facing the same sort of steep decline that the real whales faced in the 20th century!

Pod of Pink Dolphins Accompanies Record-Breaking Pearl River Delta Swimmer

Last weekend Simon Holliday, 35, set a record for the crossing of the Pearl River Delta in a time of 10 hours, 20 minutes, and 30 seconds, beating the time of Beijing swimmer Zhang Jian who swam across in 10 hours 30 minutes in 2005.
‘There were tough moments – lots of big tankers in the start, and lots of time to contemplate what I was doing, but the jellyfish didn’t appear, and instead, the dolphins did, for over an hour!’ Holliday was accompanied by a pod of pink dolphins, obviously keen to support another ‘pink’ thing swimming in the murky waters of the Pearl River Delta. Pink dolphins are a massively endangered species, mostly on account of habitat degradation and destruction. ‘It was one of the most amazing moments of my life to see them around us for so long, even though I had to keep my head down and kept going.’
Doug Woodring of the Ocean Recovery Alliance said: ‘I’ve never seen so many dolphins – at one point there was around 30 of them. Today was not just a great day for the ocean, but a great day for Hong Kong open-water swimming.’

Holliday began his swim at 5am from Peaked Hill (Kai Yet Kok), on the west edge of Lantau Island, Hong Kong and swam approximately 35km to Hac Sa Beach in Macau, arriving at [3:40pm]. The swim has raised over $250,000 HKD for Ocean Recovery Alliance and their project Grate Art, which brings together eight local and Chinese artists to create plaques used to remind people not to dump into drains on the street, as these sometimes flow into the ocean.

Asked the first thing he was going to do after emerging from the water, Holliday remarked: ‘I am going to have a pint of beer, in a glass.’

Simon Holliday is an open-water swimmer based in Hong Kong. Simon swam across the English Channel in August 2011 and has done several long swims around the UK and Ireland.

Ocean Recovery Alliance brings together new ways of thinking, technologies, creativity and collaborations in order to introduce innovative projects and initiatives that help to improve our ocean environment. It has two projects with the Clinton Global Initiative focused on the reduction of plastic pollution, and is one of the only NGOs in the world to be working with both the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Oceans. It also organises Kids Ocean Day in Hong Kong, Hong Kong-San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival (May 6-11, 2014), and the international business forum, Plasticity, on the future of plastic, where is can be used, without the ‘footprint.’

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Simon Holliday (swimming) and Shu Pu (paddling) from Hong Kong to Macau – Jeffrey Yim

Source: Ocean Recovery Alliance