Chinese white dolphin

Pretty in pink

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 May, 2002, 12:00am

THE PINK DOLPHIN was made Hong Kong's official mascot in 1997, but how many of us have actually seen them? There are no excuses; the dolphins are on our doorstep, and reasonably priced tours run three times a week.

The proper name for these playful sea creatures is the Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphin. They are also known as the Chinese white dolphins because, despite appearing bubble-gum pink, they are actually white. To cool down from the exertion of swimming, the dolphins flush blood to the outer layers of their skin. This 'blushing' makes them appear pink.

There are about 1,000 dolphins living in the Pearl River Estuary and scientists estimate that about 10 per cent of those are in Hong Kong waters. Most of these can be found in the waters off north Lantau, near Chek Lap Kok International Airport. With the Lantau power station on one side, Penny's Bay reclamation further down the coast and the constant buzz of high-speed ferries, it is not the most scenic spot. But it does highlight their plight.

Sometimes dolphins are hit and killed by the ferries, and the noise made by the engines can disrupt their communication. It is not just the visible disturbances that threaten the dolphins. The most serious danger they face is that posed by the harmful chemicals and pesticides that are dumped into the sea.

Dolphins eat fish. One of the easiest ways of getting their dinner is to follow a pair of fishing trawlers and catch the fish that filter over the mouth of the net. If you see a fishing trawler off north Lantau, look for the dolphins. But for a sure-fire way to see the dolphins, join a tour.

Dolphinwatch runs trips three times a week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets for students in tertiary school in Hong Kong are $100 each - just produce your student ID. Adults have to cough up $320 and children under 12 go for $160.

The coach for the half-day trip leaves from the Mandarin Hotel at 8.30 am. Dolphinwatch claims they spot the dolphins on 97 per cent of their trips, but do not worry if you are in the unlucky three per cent. If you miss the dolphins the first time around, you get to go for free the next time.

Pink dolphins are social creatures and swim in groups of three or four. Aside from mothers and babies, they do not tend to hang out with the same dolphins and like to vary their swimming companions. If you join a Dolphinwatch trip soon, you might see the baby dolphin, which the Dolphinwatch crew estimate was born a few months ago. Hong Kong dolphins are born grey and they lighten with age. By the time they reach sexual maturity, at about 10 years old, they are white.

Hong Kong dolphins are not the most acrobatic, but they do like to leap out of the water and can perform spectacular aerial displays. Watching several pink dolphins dance in the waves is a sight not to be missed.