Do you know there are pink dolphins in this world? They are rare and facing extinction. The culprit? Human destruction of their habitat. No surprise there!
Pink dolphins in and around the Indian and Pacific oceans are commonly known as the Chinese White dolphin or Hong Kong (HK) Sousa, and the Eastern Taiwan Straight (ETS Sousa) dolphin. Born dark gray or black, the dolphins become spotted and turn pink by the time they are adults. Some appear albino, which is perhaps why in China they are called white.
One thing both groups of pink dolphins have in common is the severely damaged ecological conditions in which they live. Both Hong Kong and Taiwan are industrial mega-centers. The environmental ramifications are enormous to these rare cetaceans.
In 2008, a group of 17 international scientists formed the Eastern Taiwan Strait Sousa Technical Advisory Working Group (ETSSTAWG) to inform about the plight of ETS dolphins. Their conclusions of threats to the dolphins were predictable:
- Shoreline Industrial Development – hydraulic filling, seawall construction, sand mining, toxic contamination, land reclamation
- Overfishing – gill nets, vessel strikes, overexploitation causes decreased prey for dolphins
- Noise Disturbances – dredging, pile driving, increased vessel traffic, seawall construction
- Small Population size – inbreeding from such a small population decreases genetic variability
- Climate Change – more typhoons have hit the western coast of Taiwan in recent years
- Habitat Disturbance – construction, shipping and military activities
With a population now reduced from about 100 in 2007 to 64, the ETS dolphins are considered critically threatened on the CITIES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) list. Samuel Hung, Chairman of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society says Chinese White dolphins in Hong Kong’s Pearl River Delta have decreased from 158 dolphins in 2003 to only 61 dolphins in 2012. This population is also considered critically threatened.
“We are at a critical juncture on whether we can help the dolphins,” said Hung. “I have no idea whether they will keep going down and down — but what I do know is we need to work urgently to come up with solutions to clean up the dolphin’s habitat.”
About Pink Dolphins
Even though both groups of pink dolphins are considered the same species, Sousa chinesis, there actually are some differences. ETS dolphins’ spotting change (gray to pink) has a different pattern than dolphins from Hong Kong waters. Scientists continue to study these populations and may eventually consider ETS dolphins a subspecies.
Initially it was thought the color change was from a diet of crabs and shellfish, which are known to cause flamingos to change color. The current belief is that the pigment doesn’t change; rather overactive blood vessels near the skin used for thermoregulation cause the pink hue. Interestingly, as they age, these dolphins tend to turn grey again.
There are also habitat differences. ETS dolphins live in waters mixed with fresh and salt waters while the HK Sousa is native to salt water.
The HK dolphin’s natural habitat is in the Indian ocean from southeast Asia to South Africa and Australia. They were first identified by an English explorer, Peter Mundy, in 1637.
ETS dolphins were discovered in 2002 off the western coast of Taiwan. They live in a 500 square kilometer region of waters that vary between 5 – 15 meters deep. They do not cross waters and interact with HK dolphins.
Can Pink Dolphins be Saved?
Is it possible to save pink dolphins from extinction? The possibility certainly appears dismal.
Completion of the Hong Kong Zhuhai-Macau bridge is expected by 2016. It will connect the Asian financial hub with the world’s gambling capitol in Macau. Yes, roll over Las Vegas, for the past five years the Nevada entertainment center is no longer the highest gambling-revenue producing city in the world. Measuring 42 kilometers, this bridge/tunnel project is being constructed directly through the pink dolphin habitat.
Hong Kong is also planning four land reclamation projects to produce more housing. Again, it is directly through the dolphin’s living area. Plans to enlarge the Chep Lap Kok international airport by 2023 will require 650 hectares of land to be reclaimed from the ocean. To put it into perspective, that is the area of roughly 5,000 Olympic size swimming pools.
As is usual, the battle is between those who prioritize industrialization verses animal advocates and environmentalists. In which group do you belong?
Change is incremental and only works when the people let their desires be known. Sign the Care2 petition and share this article to let Hong Kong and Taiwanese legislators know you do not want pink dolphins to go extinct! Tell them to stop polluting and invading the dolphin’s habitat.