Pretty in pink: Dolphins disappearing from Hong Kong waters

Rare Chinese white dolphins are dying off due to pollution and other threats, Hong Kong conservationists say.

The famous pink dolphins of Hong Kong are dying off at an alarming rate and could vanish from the city's waters unless urgent action is taken to curb pollution and other marine threats, conservationists warn.

The number of Chinese white dolphins, commonly called pink dolphins for their distinctive color, has plummeted from 158 in 2003 to 78 in 2011, according to the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society. The figure for 2012, which will be released next month, is expected to show another significant decline, said Samuel Hung Ka-yiu, the conservation society's chairman.

"They are diminishing their use [of Hong Kong waters], they are not reproducing and they are dying," Hung said, according to the South China Morning Post.

 "It is hard to say if they will leave Hong Kong permanently … but [the trend] will become worse and worse."

Related: Endangered species recently declared extinct

Conservationists estimate there are fewer than 2,500 of this dolphin species left. They reside in the Pearl River Delta, the body of water between Macau, China, and Hong Kong, with most in Chinese waters.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists Sousa chinensis, the scientific name for the Chinese white dolphin, also known as the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, as "near threatened" on its wildlife "Red List."

The pink dolphin was the official mascot at the handover ceremony when Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Marine wildlife officials say water pollution, coastal development, increased marine traffic and overfishing have combined to drive down their numbers. Hung said a proposal to build a third runway on reclaimed land at the Hong Kong International Airport would further strain the dolphins' habitat, the South China Morning Post reported.

The organization says many dolphins die after accidentally being caught in fishing nets or in collisions with marine vessels. It says that high volumes of sewage discharge, disposal of contaminated mud from dredging and reclamation projects, and underwater industrial activity, such as pile-driving during pier and bridge construction, also likely figure into the mammals' decline.

Janet Walker, spokeswoman for Hong Kong Dolphinwatch, which runs dolphin-spotting boat trips mainly to raise public awareness of the marine mammals, was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying: "Half the dead ones every year are juveniles and babies."

A tour guide from Hong Kong Dolphinwatch last month posted a video of a mother and other dolphins struggling to support a dead calf in the water near Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park. The video was widely shared on Facebook.

"We're 99 percent certain the calf died from toxins in the mother's milk, accumulated from polluted seawater," Walker said, Agence France-Presse reported.

"It is up to the government and every Hong Kong citizen to stand up for dolphins. We risk losing them unless we all take action," Hung said.

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