Return-path: <WHE_WILLIAM@flo.org> Received: from flo.org by VMSVAX.SIMMONS.EDU (PMDF V4.3-10 #8767) id <01HKN0N34JR400AHWP@VMSVAX.SIMMONS.EDU>; Wed, 14 Dec 1994 15:48:29 -0500 (EST) Date: Wed, 14 Dec 1994 15:55:17 -0500 (EST) From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@flo.org> Subject: Case Study: Hong Kong & Dolphins To: whalenet@VMSVAX.SIMMONS.EDU Message-id: <email@example.com> Content-transfer-encoding: 7BIT From: SMTP%"DDVFFVS@UVVM.UVic.CA" 13-DEC-1994 17:47:48.43 To: WHE_WILLIAM CC: Subj: Dolphins Date: Tue, 13 Dec 1994 14:22:50 PST Reply-To: DDVFFVS@UVVM.UVic.CA Sender: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion <MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET> Comments: Warning -- original Sender: tag was rbaird@SOL.UVIC.CA From: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Dolphins To: Multiple recipients of list MARMAM <MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET> ----------------------------Original message---------------------------- Dolphins By DEIRDRE CHETHAM National Geographic For AP Special Features HONG KONG -- A $20.3 billion public-works project may improve the lives of humans in this teeming British colony, but it threatens the future of the Chinese white dolphins that swim in surrounding waters. Relatively little is known about the marine mammals, also known as Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, that dwell in murky waters near river mouths, in this case Hong Kong's Pearl River. Despite their name, they're not white. "The striking thing about them is that they're bubble-gum pink," says Stephen Leatherwood of Hong Kong, chairman of the Cetacean Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). "They're a little more circumspect than the classic oceanic dolphins," he says. Those include the well-known bottlenoses, the playful, intelligent creatures made famous by Flipper. Kenneth S. Norris, a retired professor of natural history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a student of dolphins for more than 40 years, recalls an encounter with a humpback. "I've actually been challenged by one of these animals that was in captivity in Australia," he says. "It was fairly feisty." The dolphin, in an aquarium tank that had just been drained, was able to move around on its pectoral fins. "It stood its ground," Norris says. "It would snap at you." Indo-Pacific humpbacks inhabit broad stretches of coastal and inland waters in the Indian and Western Pacific oceans. They and their relatives are found off the coasts of Australia, Africa, India and China. Hong Kong's dolphin population, possibly numbering between 50 and 100, is in worse trouble than many others. Three-quarters of the world's dredging equipment and cranes are now in Hong Kong waters to complete a new international airport, port facilities and a massive land reclamation project. Dredging and blasting add pollution and danger to the dolphins' already polluted habitat, which includes more than half of Hong Kong's untreated sewage, along with industrial wastes, pesticides and other toxins. Dredging fills the harbor water with silt, making it difficult for the dolphins to find food. Dynamite-blasting can destroy a dolphin's hearing and sonar system, making it impossible for it to function, and shock waves can cause lung damage and internal bleeding. By 1997, when the airport is completed, more than 1,000 acres of sea will have been filled in. According to the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department, all the construction work and land formation will have generated more than 338 million cubic yards of waste mud and rock. The Hong Kong dolphins are most commonly found in groups of four to 12, called pods, near the confluence of the Pearl River and the China Sea. Because they must breathe every two minutes, they rarely venture into water deeper than 8 meters and tend to keep to a narrow strip of water northwest of Lantau, Hong Kong's largest outlying island. Unfortunately for the dolphins, the new airport is being built on Chek Lap Kok Island, just off Lantau. Chinese white dolphins had never been formally studied until 1990. That year, fearing that the newly announced airport project would destroy the animals' habitat, the Worldwide Fund for Nature Hong Kong (WWF) and the Hong Kong Marine Conservation Society initiated a sighting program. In 1993, Brian Morton of Hong Kong University's Zoology Department and two British graduate students, Lindsay Porter and Chris Parsons, began a three-year-study of the dolphins. The $256,000 study, under the auspices of the university's Swire Marine Laboratory, is financed by the British colony's Agriculture and Fisheries Department. One known pod of eight to 12 dolphins has disappeared since airport construction began, says Joanna Ruxton, senior conservation officer for the WWF. Porter says some dolphins seem to be moving slightly to the south, but persistently remain in the development area despite the dangers. She has, according to the latest reports, identified fifty-two individual dolphins. Many of them appear to be unusually thin, their skeletons clearly evident beneath their blubber, she says. "They are clearly dependent on something there, though we do not yet know if it is the water depth or food," she tells National Geographic. Dolphins are no more immune than their human counterparts to other hazards of life in Hong Kong. Five dolphins are known to have died there in the past two years, one apparently in a boating accident. Two others may have been infected with cholera. In 1991, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) classified the Chinese white dolphin as "insufficiently known" and placed it in Appendix 1, which forbids commercial trade in a species. Margaret Klinowska, a biologist who is now at the Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge in England, compiled the CITES volume on dolphins and other marine mammals. She says that the Indo-Pacific animals probably aren't endangered, "but they're in a very vulnerable habitat." Cantonese Chinese don't eat dolphins, so at least in Hong Kong, the humpbacks don't end up on someone's dinner plate. But farther up the Chinese coast, in Fujian, researchers believe the same species can be found in fish markets. Klinowska takes issue with what she considers overblown reports of the status of Chinese white dolphins: "We need a lot more information than what's been in the press, which is a big scream about endangered species and so on. I think we can cry wolf too often." Pollution hasn't afflicted the Hong Kong dolphins overnight, she says. "If they're still there, the presumption is that they can take it." But Leatherwood questions how much the animals can take before the local population becomes endangered. "I believe there must be a threshold of noise, pollution and fish resources," he says, "but we don't know what that threshold is." By 1996, at the conclusion of their study, Porter and her colleagues hope to collect enough new information for the government to develop an effective defense of the beleaguered Hong Kong dolphins -- if it's not too late.