HONG KONG – Sightings of Hong Kong’s rare pink dolphins have increased by nearly a third since water traffic in the city was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to scientists.
The species is native to the Pearl River estuary, the third-longest river running entirely through China, but normally avoids the waters between Hong Kong and Macau due to the large volume of high-speed ships and ferries passing through the area.
But this aquatic traffic was temporarily halted due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and has seen some dolphins return to their former feeding grounds.
Laurence McCook, head of ocean conservation at the World Wildlife Fund, told EFE that his team carried out a survey of the cetaceans around the Hong Kong island of Lantau.
They found that the animals have adapted “faster than expected” to their calmer environment and that their population is slowly returning.
“These dolphins are of global importance as a vulnerable species on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species and are an important part of Hong Kong and Canton’s shared heritage but marine developments in the waters of both regions had put the species in grave danger,” McCook said.
He added that the presence of these animals has dropped by as much as 80 percent in the area over the last 15 years due to human activity.
There are estimated to be around 2,500 Hong Kong pink dolphins and the species faces threats such as the degradation of its habitat, underwater noise pollution and the presence of toxins and other contaminants, according to WWF Hong Kong.
The organization has urged local authorities to establish a dolphin conservation management zone in the western and southern waters of Lantau Island and to rigorously manage boat traffic and ecotourism to help protect the dolphins in those waters.
Experts have also proposed an emergency plan to give the dolphins a chance to recover their habitat, which includes providing protection for the most critical areas so that the cetaceans can feed, mate and socialize.