WATCH: Rare Chinese white dolphins swimming through waters heavily polluted by plastic
The official mascot of Hong Kong’s handover to the Chinese mainland is in grave danger
The Chinese white dolphin—which appears pink due to networks of blood vessels clustered just beneath the surface of the skin — was the official mascot of Hong Kong’s handover to the Chinese mainland in 1997.
Last year the species was declared vulnerable to extinction, with population estimates in Hong Kong and its environs plummeting to a new low of 47, down from 188 in 2003, the first year for which records were kept.
By all accounts, the Chinese white dolphin faces a dire struggle against endangerment, particularly vulnerable to the encroachment of infrastructural development on marine habitats because it prefers to feed and dwell in shallow coastal waters.
“There are absolutely no barometers of optimism this year,” Samuel Hung, a Hong Kong-based marine biologist and leading dolphin conservationist, said of the Chinese white dolphin’s bleak prospects for survival.
A series of infrastructural development projects advanced recently —including the construction of a bridge and tunnel linking Hong Kong and Macau to the mainland and a plan underway to build a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport — threaten to further displace the Chinese white dolphin population from its native waters. Some conservationists remain skeptical of Hong Kong’s environmental permitting process, arguing that its Environmental Protection Department has been far too willing to green-light environmentally adverse development projects.
The survival of the species is further jeopardized by high-speed boat traffic — which puts Chinese white dolphins at risk of being hit and interferes with the echolocation that orients their communication, navigation, and hunting abilities — and disruptions in the marine food chain caused by ocean pollution and unsustainable fishing practices.
“The Chinese white dolphin has suffered from the regional water pollution of the Pearl River estuary,” writes the World Wildlife Fund. “However, the overall impacts of water pollution to dolphin remain unclear and more research is required.”
Concerns about ocean pollution in greater China have been particularly salient in the news recently, with Taiwan’s environmental ministry announcing that it will ban disposable plastic products by 2030 and a BBC investigation revealing that fishing continued well after a January oil spill released unprecedented quantities of an invisible crude oil called condensate into the East China Sea.
BBC Earth recently captured drone footage of a pod of Chinese white dolphins knifing through waters heavily polluted by plastic: