Tag Archives: cetaceans

Dead Dolphin Found Off Sai Wan Ho

A dead dolphin was found by boatman at around midnight off Sai Wan Ho. The dolphin measured about 1.5 m in length. Police recovered the carcass and has passed it to the AFCD for further identification and post-mortem.

The Tai Po Whale of 1914 and the Taipo Whale of 2014

I found another ‘gem’ while looking through old HK newspapers:

A Whale Now!

A reader informs us that a whale 23 feet [7m] in length was seen in Tolo Harbour, near Taipo, on Sunday [11th of May 1914], and that the police, from a launch, fired three rounds at the mighty creature, which however disappeared.”

Taken from the Hong Kong Telegraph 13th of May 1914
Taken from the Hong Kong Telegraph 13th of May 1914
How strange to think that back then the first reaction on seeing a big whale, was to pull out a gun and shoot it!

It struck me as quite interesting, that Tolo Harbor near Taipo was also the site the stranding of a 42-foot (13m) Omura’s whale in March 2014 – almost exactly 100 years later!

Tolo Harbor is almost completely enclosed by land so any whale erring into it is bound to get confused, I think.

Whale and Dolphin Strandings and Oil and Gas Exploration in the South China Sea

In May of this year CNOOC reported a mid-sized oil field discovery, the Liuhua 20-2 field, in the Eastern South China Sea. Liuhua 20-2 is located in the Pearl River Mouth basin of the South China Sea, at an average water depth of about 390 m. The discovery well (LH20-2-1) was drilled to a depth of about 2,970 m.

This is only the latest South China Sea oil and gas field to be opened. In the last decade a large number of fields have been discovered, explored and commercially exploited. Hong Kong in fact receives some of its gas via a direct pipeline from a gas field southeast of Hainan Island.

Oil and gas prospecting, however, relies on seismic surveys. This involves sending powerful sound or shock waves through the water to the seabed to measure and analyse the echo received back. For the echo to give valuable data on lower rock layers they must be powerful enough to penetrate through thick sediment and into the rocks below. There are a few ways that can be done some including TNT or electricity to create imploding plasma bubbles. But the result is always a loud sound or explosion.

Oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea (via Energy-pedia, May 2014)

In the last few years Hong Kong has seen a number of more unusual whale strandings including deep-water species like sperm whales, Pygmy sperm whales and short-finned pilot whales, as well as other whales normally rarely if ever seen in Hong Kong such as Omura’s whales. Toothed whales rely heavily on echolocation (seeing by sound) for navigation, so the idea arises whether increased seismic survey activity in the South China Sea is part of the cause for these strandings.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any scientific investigations into the effects of seismic surveys on whales and dolphins in the South China Sea. Research in this area is very difficult because it is hard to track whales and dolphins in the first place, and because their navigation sense is poorly understood. There are also multiple possible reasons for strandings, including disease and injuries so making a causal link between seismic surveys and whale strandings is very difficult even in the best of circumstances. However, intuitively, it seems right to restrict the use of loud explosions in the habitat of rare marine animals with very sensitive hearing organs that are also essential for their navigation. Particularly as sound conducts much better in water than in air.

When I took part in a research cruise to the Weddell Sea in Antarctica (back in 2005) there was actually a restriction on even the scientific use of small seismic surveys for marine geological baseline research. Special permits had to be applied for from the relevant government ddepartments of participating nations – in the end the only country that granted a permit was Russia.

There are also (as far as I am aware) reasonable restrictions on using seismic surveys in the North Atlantic by Europe, the U.S. and Canada, that require observers to check (as far as possible) that no whales are in the area before the survey starts.

I am not aware of any such restrictions in the South China Sea, although my knowledge of PRC laws and regulations is poor and perhaps such rules exist after all (feel free to point out any errors in the comments below).

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).

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!

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.