Tag Archives: whales

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).

Taipo Whale Identified as Recently Discovered Omura’s Whale

A dead ten-metre whale that washed up near Tai Po in March has been identified as an Omura’s Whale specimen (also known as dwarf fin whale), a species that science knows very little about, reports Apple Daily.
In fact, until this discovery, only nine whales have been genetically confirmed to be of the Omura’s Whale species, which was discovered only in 2003.
Over the past nine months, researchers at CityU have been preparing the whale’s bones to be put on display on their campus. But due to the size of the carcass – it weighed 25 tons when it was first found – the process is still ongoing.
The backbreaking work includes soaking the bones for months and boiling them over 20 times.
CityU is planning on displaying the entire five-ton skeleton in front of its library.

Source: Apple Daily via Coconuts HK 23/12/2014

Featured image: Ocean Park Conservation Fund

False Killer Whales Visit Hong Kong

SCMP – 15th Feb 2014:

The cold weather might be putting you off going out, let along going for a dip. But Hong Kong’s unusually chilly waters didn’t put off one unusual group of visitors.

A pod of about 100 false killer whales has been in local waters over the past two days, in what is thought to be the first mass sighting of the marine mammal in Hong Kong.

The animals were first spotted and videoed by crane operators at the Kwai Tsing container terminal as they made their way through Rambler Channel at about 3pm on Thursday.

At about 5.30pm, they were spotted by dolphin researchers heading from Ma Wan and the Brothers islands, north of Lantau. They were seen chasing fish, leaping out of the water and swimming next to ships.

They are believed to have left Hong Kong waters yesterday, according to the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, which tracked the animals and released two pictures of them.

The creatures are widely found in tropical and temperate waters, but rarely seen in Hong Kong, especially in groups.

In 2002, an attempt to rescue a false killer whale found stranded at Tai Long Sai Wan failed. False killer whales were found dead in 1983 at Tai Lam Chung, near Tuen Mun; in 2000 at Lantau; and at Sai Kung in 2005.

While they are known as false killer whales, the creatures, a member of the dolphin family, bear little resemblance to the orca except in the shape of their head and teeth. A mature false killer whale can be up to six metres long. Pods usually have between 30 and 50 members.

Dr Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, chairman of the society, said researchers found the sight of the pod deeply impressive. “If you looked around, they were everywhere. It was spectacular view.”

Hung said it was not possible to speculate why the false killer whales were in Hong Kong or whether it could be down to this week’s cold snap.

“I can’t really think why [they were here]. But the group looked healthy and relaxed as they chased fish. They definitely did not get lost and they weren’t in a distressed state,” he said.

While visits by whales and dolphins – apart from local populations – are rare, a few unexpected visitors have turned up. A humpback whale was spotted in Victoria Harbour in 2009, while there was a suspected whale sighting off Pok Fu Lam in 2011.

The visits have been hailed a positive side-effect of work to clean up local waters.

The humpback whale that came to Hong Kong

In 2009 an unfortunate humpback whale strayed into Hong Kong waters in the east Lamma Channel. Below is a youtube clip of this momentous occassion as well as some pictures from an AFCD publication (not linked here, as its in Chinese).

Humpback whale breaching in the East Lamma Channel
The humpback whale breaching in the East Lamma Channel (Photo from AFCD publication)
The humpback whale surfacing in the East Lamma Channel (Photo from AFCD publication)
The humpback whale surfacing in the East Lamma Channel (Photo from AFCD publication)


The humpback whale diving in the East Lamma Channel
The humpback whale diving in the East Lamma Channel (photo from AFCD publication)

AFCD Press Release:

Humpback whale sighted at Lei Yue Mun
Thursday, March 26, 2009

The humpback whale has been sighted at Lei Yue Mun by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and experts today (March 26).

As Lei Yue Mun is a principal fairway, the Marine Department has reminded vessels to exercise caution when navigating.

An AFCD spokesman appealed to the public to refrain from sailing out to disturb the whale.

“The whale appears normal. Experts believe that it is still capable of swimming to the open sea and finding its way back to its migration route. Minimising human disturbance will enhance its chances of heading home,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said that the AFCD will continue to monitor the whale’s condition with the experts and relevant departments.

All cetacean species are protected under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap 170). Irresponsible behaviour of whale watchers may constitute an act of wilful disturbance of protected wild animals, which is liable to a maximum penalty of $100,000 and imprisonment for one year.