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.’

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

Source: Ocean Recovery Alliance

WWF Launches HK Coastal Watch


Sea Eagles and the planned Waste Incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau

On a recent boat trip along southern Lantau I noticed a large bird of prey soaring in the distance. If you live in HK you know that we have thousands of black kites that soar overhead pretty much everywhere including the financial district of Central. So normally the sight of a bird of prey soaring overhead is commonplace and not worthy of note. I would not have thought more of it. But it struck me that this bird seemed bigger and the closer the boat got, the bigger it seemed. A lot bigger than a black kite! Once we got close enough and passed under it I saw it had a wide white triangular shape covering its head, belly and part of the underside of the wings. Looking it up in my copy of ‘Birds of Hong Kong and South China’ I managed to identify it as a white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster). Sea eagles in Hong Kong? That surprised me.
I will confess that I have never been particularly interested in birds. I could never understand the fascination bird watchers have with these animals, especially the small birds that in my opinion “don’t do much”. But like any subject, it’s finding the right angle to enter a topic that counts and for me that’s always been the marine environment. So an impressive sea eagle may well lead me to an interest in birds eventually!
There would be little point in recounting general facts about this beautiful creature when you can get all this from Wikipedia’s article on white-bellied sea eagles. But I will mention the size because it impressed me: the female is slightly larger than the male, and can measure up to 90 cm (35 in) long with a wingspan of up to 2.2 m (7 ft), and weigh 4.5 kg (10 lb). Up to 2.2m wingspan! I needed to know more…
Naturally I went looking for information and records of these sea eagles in Hong Kong.

Here is a nice YouTube clip apparently from Hong Kong of a juvenile white-bellied sea eagle soaring over the water:

Beasts of Hong Kong is a great blog with a post on the sea eagle . It has some surprising info: I had no idea that the sea eagles nested on Lantau until Disney and it’s carbon-footprint busting nightly fireworks came along.

Other interesting bits:

  • according to the HK bird watching society Hong Kong is the only place in China known to host a regular population
  • white-bellied sea eagles are especially fond of fish and snakes and they have amazing skills of flight and control as it they snatch their prey from the surface of the water
  • in 2009 there were 15 breeding pairs (30 adults) in Hong Kong the AFCD reports
  • in 2006 the Hong Kong Post issued a 10 white-bellied sea eagle postage stamp
10 cent Hong Kong postage stamp featuring the white-bellied sea eagle
10 cent Hong Kong postage stamp featuring the white-bellied sea eagle

Uniquely interesting for me is that the AFCD study published in 2010 also located a breeding pair on the island of Shek Kwu Chau. Below is the map from the study showing breeding pair locations.

Territories (green) and breeding pairs (red) of white-bellied sea eagles in Hong Kong (AFCD, 2010).

Shek Kwu Chau is the Island the government is planning to turn into a giant waste incineration facility amid strong opposition from green groups and the Hong Kong Clean Air a Network (CAN). So you just got another reason to oppose the project, if air pollution and inefficient waste management were not enough…

The AFCD study found that the population of White-bellied Sea Eagles in Hong Kong seemED healthy. According to the study, “the White-bellied Sea Eagle’s decline […in other regions…] is mainly due to threats such as human disturbance, habitat destruction, shooting and poisoning (Ferguson-Lees and Christie, 2001). In Hong Kong, thefts of eggs from nests and disturbance such as grass cutting have caused breeding failures of White-bellied Sea Eagles in the past (Taylor, 1933). With the enforcement of the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap. 170), direct human disturbance of the birds is now prohibited. Besides, as most of the nests are located in protected or remote areas, their nesting sites are relatively free from development pressures.” (AFCD report).

I wonder for how long the population of white-bellied Sea Eagles will be healthy if we build super-incinerators on their nesting grounds…

And finally a very recent YouTube clip of a white-bellied sea eagle over Stanley from March 2014.

(Featured image: White-Bellied Sea Eagle by Richard Fischer, subject to attribution license)

Hong Kong’s First Three Spotted Seals Born in Ocean Park

Sammy, one of the three baby spotted seals, currently sports a fluffy coat that he will shed in about a month’s time. Photo: Nora Tam
The first spotted seals were born in Hong Kong between Apr. 13 and May 4. All the seals are male and named Ocean, Sonny and Sammy. They are the offspring of three different seals from Dalian in the mainland.

The baby seals each weighed between 18kg and 38kg now, up from about 10kg after their birth, said Polar Adventure curator Philip Wong Wing-hong. The boys sport fluffy coats at birth, but two have already shed them. The youngest squirt, Sammy, is expected to do so about a month later. “Sonny is the most energetic of the three. He swam for the first time just 32 hours after he was born,” he said. “Ocean is the friendliest and loves interacting with the trainers.”

The spotted seal – the only type of seal found in China – can live up to 35 years and weigh a maximum of 130kg.

The spotted seal (Phoca largha, Phoca vitulina largha), also known as the larga or largha inhabits ice floes and waters of the north Pacific Ocean and adjacent seas. It is primarily found along the continental shelf of the Beaufort, Chukchi, Bering and Okhotsk Seas and south to the northern Yellow Sea and it migrates south as far as northern Huanghai and the western Sea of Japan. It is also found in Alaska from the southeastern Bristol Bay to Demarcation Point during the ice-free seasons of summer and autumn when spotted seals mate and have pups. Smaller numbers are found in the Beaufort Sea.

Fluffy newborn Sonny gets its first taste of the cameras. He is the most energetic of the three, taking a swim just a day after it was born. Photo: SCMP Pictures
The reduction in arctic ice floes due to global warming led to concerns that the spotted seal was threatened with extinction. In South Korea, spotted seals have been designated Natural Monument No. 331 and second-class endangered species. This is because the seals from South Korea travel to Dalian, China to breed every year where several thousands are harvested for their genitals and sealskin to be sold on the black market for Chinese medicine. An environmental activist group Green Korea United is currently working closely with local Chinese government to stop the seals from being poached by Chinese fishermen. In China the seals are covered under category 2 of the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Law.

The newborn seals are born with a coat of fluffy fur which they shed one month later, and they usually dip into the water three days after birth.

Two of the mothers, Qiao Niu and Lisa, were born in the Dalian Lao Hu Tan Ocean Park while the other was from the Dalian Sun Asia Ocean World.

The parents of Qiao Niu and Lisa were rescued after the four seals were accidentally caught by fishermen near the seaport. The Lao Hu Tan Ocean Park cared for them before releasing them back into the wild last year.

Visitors can visit the seals at Ocean Park this summer. The park has a total of six bulls and seven cows.

Update on the Striped Dolphin That Stranded and Died in Sai Kung

The dolphin was 2m long dolphin and died after becoming stranded on the beach at Tung Wan, part of the popular Tai Long Wan area in Sai Kung.

Three hikers found the mammal in trouble at about 5pm on Saturday and helped to keep it alive, according to an Ocean Park spokesman.

Staff at the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department came to assist in the rescue about four and a half hours later. “The dolphin was found injured with visible external wounds,” an Ocean Park spokesman said.

A picture taken during the effort showed rescuers attempting to move the injured dolphin using a large piece of material.

The 68kg dolphin was taken to Ocean Park for treatment but eventually died from its injuries yesterday afternoon.

“Given the dolphin was extremely weak and had multiple external wounds. It was already a miracle that we were able to bring it back to Ocean Park for treatment after it was found beached in Sai Kung,” said Suzanne Gendron, director of the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation.

The dolphin eventually died. “Necropsy of the dolphin indicated acute hemorrhagic pneumonia and associated sepsis involving all lymph nodes, liver and spleen,” Ocean Park said.

Since 2006, there have been more than 229 cases of cetaceans becoming stranded in Hong Kong waters.

In March, 2014, the carcass of a 10.8-metre whale was found off Hung Shek Mun, in Plover Cove Country Park, and in 2009, a 10-metre-long humpback whale was spotted in Hong Kong waters, believed to be the first sighting of the species in the city.

In 2003, a sperm whale was found washed up at Tai Long Wan, Sai Kung, and in 1994, the carcass of a Bryde’s whale was found in Tolo Harbour.

Chinese sturgeons die from viral infection at Ocean Park

Ocean Park reported yesterday that two of their recently imported rare Chinese sturgeons (Acipenser sinensis) died at the park yesterday.

The sturgeons were imported from the mainland China on February 18th with 13 other fish. The two sturgeons were found to be swimming abnormally on April 21st. By May 11th they were given immediate support but still died shortly after.

Ocean Park found one sturgeon died of a gill infection and the other had infections in several internal organs.

Wild Chinese sturgeons are critically endangered and protected species that have existed for a 140 million years. Most sturgeon are anadromous meaning they spawn in fresh water and migrate to salt water to mature. Historically this fish was found in China, Japan and the Korean Peninsula, but it has been extirpated from most regions due to habitat loss and overfishing. They dwell along the coasts of China’s eastern areas and migrate back up rivers to reproduce when they reach sexual maturity. Although females carry in excess of a million eggs in one pregnancy, the Chinese sturgeon’s reproductive capacity is poor because it only breeds three or four times during its life and the survival rate to hatching is estimated to be less than 1 percent.

Dolphin found on Sai Kung beach dies

A striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) found stranded on a beach in Sai Kung on Saturday died yesterday despite efforts by Ocean Park staff.

“Necropsy of the dolphin indicated acute hemorrhagic pneumonia and associated sepsis involving all lymph nodes, liver and spleen,” Ocean Park said.

Ocean Park Conservation Foundation director Suzanne Gendron said: “Given the dolphin was extremely weak and had multiple external wounds, it was already a miracle that we were able to bring it back to Ocean Park for treatment after it was found beached in Sai Kung.”

Apple Daily has a video report on this story in Cantonese, click here.

Three hikers saw the dolphin stranded on the beach around 5pm on Saturday.

With many visible external wounds, the dolphin could not swim or surface to breathe on its own.

The Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong Cetacean Stranding Response Team and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department officials arrived at 9pm. They decided to move the dolphin to Ocean Park for medical treatment.

After examination, treatment and overnight observation, the dolphin died at 11.46am yesterday.

Ocean Park said the young male dolphin, measuring 2.05 meters and weighing 68 kilograms, was more than 20 percent below the expected normal weight for such length.

A healthy male adult striped dolphin would reach up to 160kg and 2.7m in length.

This was the first live striped dolphin found in Hong Kong waters. There have been five dead striped dolphins found prior to 1996.

Source: The Standard, May 19th 2014