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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Young Dolphin in Tuen Mun Marina

A young pantropical spotted dolphin was seen swimming in the Gold Coast Marina in Tuen Mun. The dolphin is estimated to be about 1 m in length, has apparently been in the area for over a day, with Apple Daily reporting that it had been stuck for 27 hours at around 2pm yesterday (27/1/16).
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) was then notified, and sent three officers to observe the situation.

While Apple Daily maintains that the young cetacean is trapped by the boats in the harbour, President of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, Hung Ka-yiu, told Hong Kong Animal Post that he believes the dolphin was simply lost and would not require human assistance at the moment.

Hung identified the dolphin as a young pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata), a species often seen in Taiwan, but not common in Hong Kong’s waters, and the second most abundant dolphin species in the world. Hung also theorised that the dolphin was only in Hong Kong by mistake, and said he hoped it would eventually find its way back out to the ocean.

The AFCD said it would discuss future measures with dolphin experts at Ocean Park, and reminded yachtowners not to disturb the animal.

Saltwater Crocodiles, Local Celebrity and the HK Wetland Park

Did you know that large, man-eating crocodiles used to roam throughout across coastal southern China? Historical records indicate they ranged from Vietnam all the way up to the lower Minjiang River in present day Fujian province and even to the Penghu Islands of Taiwan. As you might have guessed that range also includes the lower Pearl River and present day Hong Kong and Macau.

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Pui Pui-Hong Kong Reptilian Celebrity

On the 2nd of November 2003 a saltwater crocodile was spotted in the Shan Pui River (山貝河) near Yuen Long and caused a media frenzy in HK. For several weeks Australian crocodile hunter John Lever tried unsuccessful to capture it and months of effort on the part of mainland Chinese experts also failed. Finally almost 7 months later on the 10th of June 2004 Hong Kong’s own AFCD’s conservation officers captured the crocodile after it wandered into a trap laid by the department. The 4-year old female crocodile’s measured 1.5m and weighed 14 kg and belonged the species Crocodylus porosus – the Saltwater crocodile or saltie. That is the same species that frequently makes headlines for killing humans (mostly tourists that ignore the eagerly advice) in Australia’s Northern Territory! Saltwater crocodile is one of the largest reptiles in the world. A mature male can reach 6 to 7 metres in length whereas female can reach 2.5 to 3 metres. Young saltwater crocodile feeds on insects, amphibians, small reptiles and fishes. Adults  feed on large animals like buffalo! Wild saltwater crocodile is widely distributed throughout Asian Pacific from coastal India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia to Northwest Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The current and historical ranges of saltwater crocodiles in SE Asia
The current and historical ranges of saltwater crocodiles in SE Asia (green=current, orange=extirpated (historical)).

By August 2004 a public naming competition was held before the animal was named “Pui Pui”. “Pui Pui” is a transliteration of the Chinese characters 貝貝 in the crocodile’s Chinese name, which is a pun indicating that it came from Shan Pui River and is the apple of the public’s eye. Although no one knows where the crocodile came from, it is suspected that she might be an illegal pet escaped from their owner’s home or was dumped into the river after she had grown too big.

Saltwater Crocodiles in China?

Records of saltwater crocodiles in China come primarily from the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) through to Song Dynasty (960 AD – 1279 AD); during this time period large crocodiles (presumably saltwater crocodiles) apparently preyed on both humans and livestock within the region. But the saltwater crocodile population decreased severely following the Song Dynasty.

The Chinese words/characters jiao or jiaolong anciently named a four-legged water dragon creature which may be identified as both “alligator” and “crocodile” . The “Dragons and Snakes” section of the (1578 CE) Bencao Gangmu – an ancient Chinese Medical Textbook – differentiates between a jiaolong (蛟龍) “Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)” and tolong (鼉龍) “Chinese Alligator, (Alligator sinensis)“. Most early references describe the jiaolong as living in rivers – which fits both “Chinese alligator” and “Saltwater crocodile” – and spending the tropical wet season in freshwater rivers and swamps. Comparing maximum lengths of 8 meters and 1.5 meters for this crocodile and alligator, respectively, “Saltwater crocodile” seems more consistent with descriptions of jiao dragons reaching lengths of several zhang (丈)”- (1 zhang = approximately 3.3 meters)”. Early texts often mention capturing jiao. For example the (ca. 111 CE) Hanshu records the catching of a jiao 蛟 in 106 BCE. So these may be historical but cryptic references to Saltwater Crocodiles in China. Jialong, incidentally, is also the name of China’s deep-sea submersible.

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The most recent records of the saltwater crocodile within China comes from a record in Guangxi province from the 19th Century and some bone fragments found in Hong Kong in 1922. Although I tried my best to find any information on the 1922 bone fragments, it turned up nothing (if anyone has any information on this and can help, please leave a comment!). It appears likely that the species became extinct in all of China well over a century ago and already dissapeared from most of its Chinese habitat many centuries ago. A sharp increase in the human population in the region about 600 years ago and the widespread destruction of habitat that followed is likely to blame for their disappearance.

But Pui Pui was by no means the last appearance of a large crocodilian in Hong Kong:

  • In 2012 , a 1.2-meter-long crocodile was found abandoned in an aquarium at a refuse-collection station in Tai Po. This was a abandoned pet, though.
  • In 2014 a man living along the coastal Siu Lam area in Hong Kong’s Tuen Mun district said he spotted a five-foot-long crocodile at the waters near his villa but unfortunately he could not get his camera in time and later searches by the police failed to find the animal. A cleaning worker whom the police spoke to also said that a security guard told her that a crocodile-like creature appeared at the beach by the housing estate two days earlier, but it was gone when both of them went to check.  As a result several public beaches including Golden Beach, Cafeteria Old Beach and Castle Peak Beach were temporarily shut.
What happened to Pui Pui?

Three days after its capture the crocodile was moved to Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden (KFBG) where it had access to open-air enclosures, ponds, shelters and natural settings that were more suitable for healthy growth and where vets could monitor it. It then spent the first 3 months in quarantine before moving it into an open-air enclosure. Initially it refused to eat.

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In 2006 Pui Pui was moved again to the newly built Hong Kong Wetlands Park in Tin Shui Wai. There she has a 72-square-metre outdoor enclosure with pool area, landscaped and equipped with infra-red heaters, heat pads and a weighing scale.
The general public got its first glimpse of Pui Pui exploring its outdoor enclosure in the Hong Kong Wetland Park in September 2006. At that time Pui Pui had grown to 1.75 m I. Length and 19.5 kg in weight. Now Pui Pui is about 15 years old, and according to the latest information (February 2015) from the AFCD it now measures 2.46 m in length and weights about 58.5 kg! You can see her for yourself at the HK Wetlands Park where she will be likely basking in the sun or feeding on fresh fish and chicken.

Pui Pui's Home at the HK Wetland Park
Pui Pui’s Home at the HK Wetland Park
Pui Pui’s Fame

In December 2004 Alan Jefferies and Liang Yue wrote a bilingual children’s book based on Pui Pui’s story called “The Crocodile Who Wanted To Be Famous” with illustrations by Mariko Jesse. The story is about a television-loving crocodile named Crafty that swims from his riverside village to find fame in the big city. His arrival is front-page news all around the world, but once there, he begins to question what he really wants.

The Crocodile Who Wanted To Be Famous by Alan Jefferies, illustrated by Mariko Jessse, translated by Liang Yue
The Crocodile Who Wanted To Be Famous by Alan Jefferies, illustrated by Mariko Jessse, translated by Liang Yue

 

HK Airport 3rd Runway Risks Loss of Hong Kong’s Remaining Dolphin Population

Conservationists claim that only three sightings of Chinese white dolphins have been recorded in Hong Kong this year.
The population of Hong Kong’s Chinese White Dolphins has dropped by 60% since 1997 in what the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society (HKDCS) calles an ecological disaster. Since 1997 the dolphin’s habitat saw the completion of the Chek Lap Kok International Airport, wave after wave of town development in Tung Chung and Tuen Mun, a landfill development and more recently, the construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge project which is still ongoing. This HKDCS says has almost destroyed the white dolphins habitat.

According to statistics, there were 158 white dolphins in Hong Kong in 2003 but this number fell to 62 last year (2013) – a drop of 60% -causing great concern. In addition the current scheme to build a third runway at the airport, would cover an area of 650 hectares and would be the second largest reclamation project ever and is loacted in the white dolphins habitat. But the Airport Authority so far refuses to set meet with environmental groups and refuses to give full explanation of data and has been jointly criticized by nine environmental groups. It is currently understood that the Airport Authority will soon publish and interim Environmental Impact Assessment report on the third runway project and a 30th public consultation will be held.

WWF Infographic showing threats to the chinese white dolphin in Hong Kong (click to enlarge to original size)
WWF Infographic showing threats to the chinese white dolphin in Hong Kong (click to enlarge to original size)

The construction works have forced the dolphins to move further west as the noise affects their navigation and communication skills and the barges parked in the harbor creates sediment blooms affecting their food supply. Either that or they’ve died and or giving less birth.

Samuel Hung, President of Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, urged the public to make good use of 30th consultation to express their views and take concrete actions to protect white dolphins. The Hong Kong dolphin conservation, Hong Kong Friends of the Earth and public Professional Union has conducted a “social cost and the returns assessment” study to estimate the effects of the third runway project’s on the public and its social effects which found that the white dolphin could earn Hong Kong some HKD 36.1 billion over ten years in ecological tourism revenue.