WWF Lobbying Government for Additional Marine Parks

WWF yesterday (31st May) published “Sea for Future: Conservation Priority Sites for Hong Kong”, in which it proposed designating West Lantau, South Lamma, Shui Hau, Ninepin Group and Pak Nai as marine parks.

WWF also proposed to turn Sharp Island and Shelter Island in Port Shelter, as well as Tolo Harbour, into marine protected areas.

This would restrict developments in marine parks, limit boat speeds and ban the collection of marine creatures.

However, compared to marine parks the marine protected areas would have more lax regulations also be regulations.

Under the proposal the waters off Tai O and Yi O would be combined into a western Lantau marine park.

Tai O and Fan Lau are the only remaining core habitats of the dolphins, whose numbers have dropped from 188 in 2003 to just 47 in 2017.

Together with existing plans for two marine parks near Chek Lap Kok and southwest Lantau, the Tai O a marine park would provide a protected corridor for the dolphins during construction of the third runway.

A core dolphin conservation zone around Tai O would ban coastal development and put restrictions on traffic.

The South Lamma, Sham Wan, is the only nesting site for the turtles in HK, and its beach is closed to visitors during their nesting period between June and October.

But waters off the beach are not covered by the ban, and the area is popular with recreational boats. These affect the turtles, as they have to swim past to go onto the beach.

Human disturbances can prevent female green turtles from nesting.

The turtles were last spotted nesting there in 2012. Marine park status would limit human access to the beach and nearby shallow waters, control disturbance to the turtles and limit the speed of vessels to minimize risks of collision.

WWF also suggested making Shui Hau Wan in Lantau a marine park to protect horseshoe crabs. No-take zones should be created, and partial closures should to be implemented during their breeding season.

This should also be done in wetland Pak Nai in Yuen Long, a habitat for globally-endangered black-faced spoonbills.

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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.

Pretty in Pink – the Chinese White dolphins

Humpback dolphin by Tracy Meintjes There is a lot of information on the internet about the Sousa chinensis, the Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphin, also known as the Chinese White Dolphin or the Pink Dolphin, so I won’t repeat any of it here. Instead here are some links to organizations and people that deal with the topic full-time:

 

But just because I found some old images on my computer, here are 3 blurry images of the dolphins from a distance.

Some images of the Chinese White Dolphin or Pink Dolphins (Sousa chinensis) taken back in 2002 (Credit: Chris Cornelius)