first person

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2005, 12:00am

Philip Wong Wing-hong, 30, marine mammal supervisor at Ocean Park, helped care for Siu Tik, a rare rough-toothed dolphin that died last month despite the efforts of Mr Wong and his colleagues.

Losing Siu Tik was like losing a friend. We spent a lot of time with him and it was a very sad day when he died.

Siu Tik was an extremely smart dolphin. When you did something for him, he realised it very quickly. He learned very quickly and he interacted well with us. Sometimes dolphins are scared and swim away when you go near them, but Siu Tik liked our company.

Within two weeks of arriving at Ocean Park, Siu Tik was already interacting with humans. Sometimes he would just swim to the poolside and let you play with him. When he wanted someone to join him in the water, he would swim around them to try and draw their attention.

I first met Siu Tik on May 14 last year when he was rescued off Lamma Island and brought to Ocean Park. He was really sick and couldn't balance himself in the water. At times he was falling to the right, at other times he was falling to the left. Two trainers had to hold him to help his breathing.

His body weight at that time was about 72 kg when it should have been around 100. He also had a large wound on his body. It looked really bad for him, and at the time I didn't think he would live for more than three days.

We took blood samples and gave him injections and then we tried tube feeding. Within a few days he could swim and balance himself in the water much better. He could swim very slowly around the pool and get some fish. I was very pleased and the water level was increased slightly for him, maybe to six or seven feet.

He had to be kept on his own all the time because of the danger that he might infect other dolphins because we didn't know what was wrong with him.

Sometimes he would eat around 2kg of feed, but at other times he just refused to eat. We increased the amount of water in the pool until it was about 2 metres deep so he could dive and swim better. For a while he seemed quite happy.

Then on June 22, he refused to eat voluntarily and the only way we could feed him was with a tube. We tried to stop the tube feeding for a few days to let him eat by himself, but he refused to, so we just carried on with the tube feeding.

By then we knew there was a problem with his digestive system, but we didn't know the specifics of it. His decline was gradual. Sometimes he would eat, and at other times he wouldn't.

Beginning in September we tried another method and used a lifting device to pull him up to the surface to eat. At first it helped and he was eating much more, but his appetite soon disappeared again.

As his body weight fell and his health worsened, we used force feeding. Several people would hold him, and we would open his mouth and put fish in directly. He would then swallow them by himself. He got a little better and we tried to put him back in the water.

In early February, we were concerned because his health condition was fluctuating. He was clearly suffering from an acute digestive system problem, and we went back to tube feeding because he was so unwell.

Then, on March 6 this year, Siu Tik was really sick. While we were going through the feeding routine with him, something came out of his mouth and he seemed to be in a lot of pain from his internal problems. He swam quickly around the pool a few times and then he just died.

The vet examined him after his death, and we immediately sent some samples overseas to be checked.

We are awfully sad about the loss of Siu Tik. I would very much like to know what happened to him and what it was exactly that he died from. I thought of him as a friend.