One Dead Dolphin, One Dying Shark

A 60cm-long Pacific Spadenose shark (Scoliodon macrorhynchos) washed ashore at Butterfly Beach in Tuen Mun at about 11.30am this morning. As always when a shark or suspected shark is spotted at beach in Hong Kong,
the warning flag was hoisted and beach-goers are told not to swim there, while marine police and the government flying service scour the area for sharks. No more Sharks were found. The shark may have been still alive when it washed ashore, but is now being autopsied by Ocean Park Conservation Fund.

All of Hong Kongs gazetted beaches are enclosed with shark-prevention barriers of steel wire mesh. The shark nets for the beach were inspected but no damage was detected. It is possible that the shark came ashore during high tide – or it was simply small enough to slip through the mesh.

A similar or possibly the same species was found at a beach on Lamma in August 2014.

Also on Thursday, the carcass of a male Chinese white dolphin (Sousa chinensis) was found on a beach in Sham Tsang in Tsuen Wan district. An AFCD spokeswoman said the department was alerted to the discovery at 11am. The dolphin measured 2.1 metres long and was also sent to Ocean Park for an autopsy.

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Chinese White Dolphin spotted in Pearl River near Guangzhou

As reported by several news outlets this week, a Chinese White Dolphin (Sousa chinensis) – aluas Indopacific Humpback Dolphin or ‘pink dolphin’ – was spotted near Guangzhou in the Pearl River on Wednesday the 21st of October. This drew some crowds as the dolphin stayed for about an hour. Conservation staff later used sonar equipment to try to herd it back out towards the sea -apparently with some success.

  
This story is however quite hyped-up, because these dolphins live near estuaries and previous studies have shown they move further into the estuary in the dry winter months when less freshwater is flushed into the sea by the Pearl River. In summer when the heavy rains come and the river swells the dolphins range extends further out. This is likely because they are following fish stocks that themselves track a line of salinity which mobmves in and out of the estuary with the seasons. Some fish like the flathead mullet (Mugil cephalus) commonly sold in fish markets also move in and out of fresh and seawater depending on their stage in life.

Speaking of which, I saw another prize catch of a mullet on the central waterfront yesterday. It’s a bigger fish than I have seen in any market at about 40 cm and probably 2+ kg – it drew a small crowd and plenty of mobile phone cameras. congratulations to the lucky angler!

  

Dolphin Hope Died in an Aquarium – Scared and Alone – Was That Humane?

‘Hope’, the Chinese White Dolphin injured by a boat propeller in January, was euthanised on February 10th after its bodily functions started to shut down overnight. Hope was first sighted by university students on January 16 with large wounds on its back that were so deep they exposed the marine mammal’s vertebrae. The spines above its fluke was completely severed.

Bowing to intense public pressure and activist lobbying, ‘rescuers’ located and caught it 18 days later at Lantau’s Shek Pik area. He was then handed over by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to Ocean Park’s rehabilitation facilities, where he was given fish, tubing fluids and antibiotics and where a vet cleaned the wounds.

Initially there were some signs of slight recovery as carers attempted to help him regain the loss of more than 20 percent of his body weight (up to 50 kg), after at least three weeks of limited feeding, by hand feeding him fish .

But his condition only deteriorated overnight (10-11th of February) and it failed to respond to treatment. He began regurgitating his food and his breathing became weak. His body temperature started to drop and he lost buoyancy.

A necropsy and a virtopsy will be performed to investigate the extent of Hope’s wounds, internal organ damage and infection to allow park staff to as much as possible for the care of any future injured dolphins. 

 As mentioned in my previous post on Hope’s capture, Ocean Park and almost every other captive dolphin facility have a pretty poor record at keeping even healthy dolphins alive, let alone rehabilitating them (successes are the exception that prove the rule).
But activists and the general public were not satisfied with this or the prospect of the dolphin simply dying in the sea, so the animal was ‘rescued’ and transferred to a sterile, featureless and alien environment (tank) in a operation that would have increased stress levels, where it was then completely alone without even the possibility of acoustic contact with other members of its own species. The chances, as Ocean Park’s vet in charge even said, were always slim for such severe injuries. So faced with the highly likely death of the dolphin – it was decided it should die all alone – scared and stressed – in addition to its painful and fatal injuries.

Many people harbor feelings of passive misanthropy – a latent hatred of humanity, because we all know humans are screwing up the environment. The result is a desperate need to ‘fix’ the situation. Consequently, scientific opinion is frequently dismissed and even attacked, if it advises the public to not act. In the case of Hope the dolphin, HK’s leading expert on local dolphins  Dr Samuel Hung was publicly criticised and his reputation damaged because he advised leaving the dolphin alone. Scientifically that was the right call. But most people did not want to hear that. People like to humanize dolphins and that is good in some ways, in fact it helps their conservation to some extent. But the humanising of animals serves primarily human emotional needs to love and care for another living being. The side effects can be both positive and negative. 

The ‘rescue’ of Hope was dubbed a ‘humane act’, but if you think it through the vast majority of humans, if we could chose the setting of our own death, would want to die in familiar surroundings with family and friends present. The prospect of our final moments being born out in a clinical, chlorinated prison cell completely alone except for the watchful eyes of the group of aliens who removed us from our homes and put us in the cell. This sadly is how Hope met his end.

What is interesting, too, is that the same activists who insisted on putting this dolphin in a marine-themed amusement park facility, also adamantly campaign against this dolpinarium facilities at the same time.  This indicates to me that there is not a rational reason behind the rescue, but more of an emotional one.

So there we have the even sadder end of an already sad tale. Sometimes ‘rescuing animals’ can be the worst thing to do.

3rd Dead Dolphin of 2015 Found Near the Airport

A team from the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation (OPCF) yesterday (24/3/2015) examined the dead body of a Chinese white dolphin found in waters near the Hong Kong airport.

The carcass was first spotted floating off of the Brothers, a pair of islands to the northeast of the Hong Kong International Airport.

The team was unable to determine the cause of death since the body was severely decomposed, but samples were collected for further study.

“Unfortunately, we can only confirm the cause of death in less than 10 percent of cases, mainly because most of the carcasses are badly decomposed when discovered,” said Shadow Sin, the assistant manager of scientific projects for OPCF.

  

It’s the third cetacean stranding case reported so far this year. This month also so the death of the injured dolphin nick-named ‘Hope’.

Hong Kong’s Chinese white dolphins, widely known as pink dolphins, are threatened by habitat loss and marine traffic.

The range of pink dolphins in Hong Kong has shrunk substantially since the construction of the Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok.

If you spot a dead or distressed animal you should immediately call the Hong Kong government hotline at 1823. 

Images by Ocean Park Conservation Foundation

Injured Chinese White Dolphin Caught and Under Care of Ocean Park

The Chinese white dolphin injured in Hong Kong waters in January (2015) was caught last Friday (6th of February) after 18 days of search efforts and sent to Ocean Park for treatment.

The animal, nicknamed ‘Hope’ , was found off Shek Pik, on southern Lantau Island, by experts from Ocean Park (amusement park) and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department who had been searching for the dolphin since January 20.

Image: OPCF
Image: OPCF

The team captured it using a specially adapted net and a sedative to slow the dolphin down. The  preliminary health assessment found multiple serious wounds with three exposed vertebrae in front of its tail. Also the caudal (tail) vertebrae in front of its fluke was cut through and Hope suffered at least 4 deep transversal wounds on its tail stock, extending back from its dorsal fin toward the tail.

Over the next few days Hope will have 24-hour care and undergo a thorough examination – including X-rays, ultrasound, bacterial swabs and blood tests – and receive medical treatment at the hands of experts from the park, the conservation department and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Image: OPCF
Image: OPCF

The dolphin is a male, 2.3 metres long and weighs 135 kg. It was first spotted by a group of University of Hong Kong students off the Lantau village of Tai O on January 16. They saw severe cuts on its fin and back, probably caused by the propeller of an outboard motor.

Some marine conservation specialists argued that it should be left to recover in the wild. Images of the wounded animal were circulated on the internet, causing widespread concern and pressure that probably led to the current capture.

Image: OPCF
Image: OPCF

Chinese white dolphins are a protected species in the city, with only 60 of them living in Hong Kong waters.

Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, who inspected the dolphin after its rescue, said there was no immediate threat to its survival, but judging from its condition it faced a long road to recovery.

Yesterday’s success was the sixth attempt to capture the animal. The society provided a boat for the search team to use in the operation, and sent its own team to observe the process. Asked whether the rescue procedure had caused any further injury to the dolphin, Hung said his society had shot a video of the rescue process for the park to release and it was better to leave that judgment to the public. Watch the capture of the dolphin posted by Apple Daily here.

HK Marine Life’s Opinion:

It is questionable whether the dolphin can recover from such severe injuries. Only the veterinarian and experts can judge that. But the public should know that Ocean Park for many years ran a so-called captive breeding program for dolphins that in reality managed to kill 10 times more dolphins than were born. In fact the survivorship of healthy dolphins in captivity is preety poor. A study published in 1994 examined survivorship of dolphins and whales at Ocean Park (article online here), and showed that Ocean park was not unique – all captive dolphins and whales have relatively poor survivorship.
The dolphins injuries look extremely severe. A severed or partially severed vertebrae in front of the fluke would deprive it of proper locomotion and condemn it to early death. Now if the dolphin were to die as a direct or indirect result of these injuries, the humane question to ask would be how and where should it die? In the wild where it grew up where its social contacts are? Or alone in a clinical tank at Ocean Park.
Dr Hung has been very cautious in his statements. Part of the reason may be his well-founded opposition to Ocean Park’s dolphin facilities which serve to foster public appetite for dolphin shows and captive dolphins (see SCMP articel here).

Chinese White Dolphin’s Back Slashed Likely Caused by Outboard Motor

A Chinese white dolphin was spotted off the coast of Tai O with slash injuries across its fin and back believed to have been caused by a collision with a tour boat’s outboard motor.

Despite the injuries – some of which appear to be several inches deep – a marine scientist who observed the dolphin believes it still has a fighting chance. But tour guides operating dolphin-spotting excursions were warned to steer clear of it.

The dolphin was found near Tai O village at around 4.30pm on Saturday (17th of January 2015). Video and photos taken by members of the University of Hong Kong Swire Institute of Marine Science, clearly show the dolphin swimming along with large gashes on its back and tail.

Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Samuel Hung suspected they have been caused by propeller cuts from the outboard engine of a walla-walla – a type of small motorboat common in local waters which are often seen in the area for dolphin-spotting tours.

“The injuries are very serious,” said Hung, but despite the cuts the dolphin appeared “surprisingly tough” and was seen swimming, rolling around and even feeding on fish near the water’s surface.

Many more motorised tour boats arrived at the scene to view the injured dolphin by late Saturday afternoon putting the animal at greater risk. Hung urged all tour boats not to get too close to the dolphin. He also said that at this point, based on its behaviour, the dolphin would not require further intervention such as rescue or rehabilitation. “The last thing we want to do is to disturb this animal further,” he said.

The 2013 survey estimate of the number of dolphins in west, northwest and northeast Lantau areas is 62 dolphins (similar to the 2012 estimate). That is the lowest of the past decade.

Finless Porpoise Dies After Fishing Net Entaglement

A sub-adult male finless porpoise measuring 1.43 m in length was found stranded at South Channel, Tap Mun last Sunday (17th August 2014). Tap Mun (also known as Grass Island) is in the northeast New Territories close to the Hoi Ha Wan marine park. According to marine police it was found entangled in fishing nets. The presence of net entanglement, CT scan images by Ocean Park Conservation Fund and the necropsy indicate that the porpoise as a result of net entanglement and likely drowned. Vets also found multiple abscesses I. Both left and right lungs suggesting chronic pneumonia. The porpoise also had lesions and bruising that suggest struggling in a net.

Finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides) along with the Chinese White dolphins (Sousa chinensis) are the only two cetaceans resident all year round in Hong Kong waters. This is the 34th cetacean stranding in 2014. Entanglement in fishing nets is the top cause of cetacean strandings in Hong Kong.

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Source: Ocean Park Conservation Fund