Visit the Pink Dolphins of Hong Kong

Pink dolphins seem like a fantasy, something that sounds like a dream. If they exist, how come they are so relatively unknown? They are probably white, but they exaggerate their paleness into a rose tint…at least that’s what I think at the beginning of the day. Still, dolphins are dolphins, and the team at Hong Kong Dolphin Watch have a 99% sighting success rate. They are so confident in their promise that if you don’t see these unusual creatures, they will take you out again for free.

One of the many fishing trawlers in the bay

One of the many fishing trawlers in the bay

The boat sets out from the harbour on Lantau island, travelling under the famous Ngong Ping 360 cable car as it floats its passengers mechanically above the water. We chug past the airport as the planes zoom noisily down the concreted length of the island, running out of land just as they take flight. The water here is sadly polluted. Plastic bottles, clumps of matted net, dirty oil swirls – it is an industrialised section of ocean, not a picturesque one. Fishing trawlers and oil rigs dot the bay, their occupants throwing the strange tourists a passing glance as we steam by, heading for the open ocean.

Still, it is calming to relax back on the white plastic benches atop the steadily gliding ship, the sun beating down ferociously but dispersed by the steady gusting of the wind. We don’t have to go very far from land before we reach the dolphins habitat. It is both incredible and sobering to think they live so close to civilisation and all the harmful waste it produces. People start to get to their feet, scanning the blue crests for anything that could be a dolphin. Where are they going to appear? There is an element of competition, everyone wanting to have the best view but not knowing where to station themselves yet. And then the cry goes out. A dolphin has been spotted.

Fingers point to the sea amid a chorus of exclamations. Everyone rushes forward into the prow, straining over the barriers to get that little bit closer to the still distant fin. As we draw nearer a humped back glistens pale in the green-blue water. And it really is pink!

Two Hong Kong pink dolphins

Two Hong Kong pink dolphins

We have come across a group of three moving steadily through the water with a graceful, arching ease. They swim just below the undulating surface, just blurry patches of pink until their fins break up into the air. They raise their heads, throw up their noses, then dive back under again. Playful and relaxed, they neither rush away from the boat nor approach it. They continue their journey, sometimes diving deeper, sometimes rising above. They swim in a tight group, protectively close to one another like a real family unit.

Another group appear on the other side of us. This group, also swimming tightly in formation, have a small baby with them. The babies are grey. As they grow their pigment bleaches out into a soft, ice-cream pink. They ride placidly through the waves, disappearing into the depths at will and then reappearing in a new spot a few minutes later. Our boat follows at a respectful distance – to disturb these unique creatures is the absolute opposite of Hong Kong Dolphin Watch’s ethos. They are working towards the conservation of these animals and tirelessly raising awareness of their plight. There are very few of these pink dolphins (officially known as Chinese White dolphins) left here and their habitat in Hong Kong is very limited. During the construction of the airport, many dolphin corpses were washed up with severe hearing damage caused by the excessive noise pollution. A planned extension to the airport will reduce the dolphin’s habitat further, pushing them into a much smaller area – the only part of their original habitat that will be left. Unfortunately, this happens to be the major shipping channel between Hong Kong and mainland China. As is so often the case, pressure for expansion is causing natural environments to be destroyed and rare, individual wildlife to be exterminated. And extermination is what it is – it may not be as obvious as laying a trap but the results will be just as devastating. It is just as cruel.

A close knit group swim together, the city so close you can see it in the distance

A close knit group swim together, the city so close you can see it in the distance

These creatures are a wonder to witness – an animal so rare it is hard to believe in them, so unheard of that they are forgotten. Their situation is truly tragic. As we sail away from the two peaceful, friendly groups, this is the thought that stays with me. All over the world, this is happening. Nature gets a raw deal. Taken for granted, abused and often with few to protect it, the most vital parts of our earth are bulldozed, concreted over to make space for more money, more fumes, more noise. But when these natural wonders are gone for good it will be too late. We cant recover them, cant re-create what we once discarded. Cherish it now and fight to keep it. Our connection with nature is what keeps us human. We should never underestimate that.

Tips: 

Schedule tours run every Friday, Sunday and Wednesday in the mornings. Advance booking is essential and can be done by phone or email – contact details to be found on their website. Charters are also available for large groups. They pick up from Tsim Sha Tsui on middle road outside the Kowloon Hotel. Duration is approximately 4-5 hours with 3-4 hours at sea. Price is HK$420 per adult, HK$210 for a child. It was more than we spent on any other activity, but we felt it was definitely worth it – it is a one of a kind experience! Drinks and light snacks are provided on board. Their website is http://www.hkdolphinwatch.com .

Words copyright of Bonnie Radcliffe.

Photographs copyright of Liam McCarthy.

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