Ocean Park is investigating what the accidental death of a year-old male spotted seal.
The seal died during an incident at about 2.30pm on Monday (1/6/2015) during a backwash cycle on filters at the Polar Adventure attraction which opened in 2012 and features different species of penguins, walruses, seals and sealions. In subtropical Hong Kong the energy-intensive attraction is kept at 8-10 degrees C for species native to the South Pole, with 15 to 17 degrees C for North Pole species.
The accident appeared to be the result of the animal becoming trapped against an outlet during the backwash operation, but the exact cause of death had not been confirmed after an examination of the body was carried out on Monday.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!