Rare Pink Dolphins Have Returned to Hong Kong Due to COVID-19 Lockdown Halting Ferry Traffic

Dolphin activity in Hong Kong's waters has increased 30% since the coronavirus lockdown began in March, new research shows.

Rare Pink Dolphins Have Returned to Hong Kong Due to COVID-19 Lockdown Halting Ferry Traffic
Pink dolphin. Photo: LINDSAY PORTER VIA WWF

Hong Kong is experiencing a resurgence of rare, pink dolphins in its waters — and it's all because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

For years, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, also known as Chinese white dolphins and pink dolphins, had been avoiding the Pearl River Delta due to the area's high-speed ferries traveling between Hong Kong and Macau.

But after ferry activity was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the dolphins almost immediately began returning to the waters.

Dr. Lindsay Porter, a senior research scientist with the University of St Andrews, told The Guardian and Retuers that dolphin activity in the Pearl River Delta has jumped 30% since March.

"These waters, which were once one of the busiest thoroughfares in Hong Kong, have now become very quiet," said Porter, who has been studying dolphins for 30 years.

Porter told The Guardian that she was conducting research after Hong Kong closed its borders in March when she noticed the influx of dolphin activity.

"It was the last week in February, literally the week after the ferries stopped traveling between Hong Kong and Macau," she explained. "I’ve been studying these dolphins since 1993 and I’ve never seen anything like this dramatic change before, and the only thing that changed is 200 ferries stopped traveling before."

Thanks to local Hong Kong residents sending Porter a yacht and boat, she and her team were able to drop microphones into the water and use drones to study the dolphins.

"From visual observations, the dolphins are spending much more time socializing, splashing around on the surface, quite a bit of foreplay, quite a bit of sex," she said.

WWF Hong Kong, a conservation group partnered with Porter's study, said on its website that there are likely around 2,500 dolphins in the Pearl River Delta.

However, the group noted there has been a "worrisome decrease in the number of young dolphins" in Hong Kong's waters.

"I sometimes feel that we’re studying the slow demise of this population, which can be really sad," Porter told Reuters.

According to WWF Hong Hong, the major threats to the dolphins include overfishing, water pollution, heavy marine traffic, and coastal development.

"It is necessary to take a proactive approach in order to conserve the remaining population of the species before it’s too late," the conservation group said.

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