Dolphin death rate fears rise

A DEAD pink dolphin was discovered on the shores of Lantau yesterday, bringing the death rate to nearly one a month as the endangered mammals edge closer to extinction.

Police found the badly decomposed, two metre carcass of a male dolphin near Shui Hau on south Lantau.

The pink dolphin's preferred range is near Sha Chau, Chek Lap Kok and the Brothers, but intense construction, dredging and shipping is forcing the dolphins to move away and find a new habitat.

'It is unusual to find them on this side of Lantau,' dolphin researcher Chris Parsons said.

'But we are finding more and more of them near Tai O and from there they are starting to swim to the south side.' Researchers believe one of the reasons the Chinese pink - or, as they are sometimes called, white dolphins - evolved with such bright colouring is that the low salinity estuary waters of western Hong Kong protects them from sharks.

Sharks become very docile and slow-moving in low saline waters - which also explains why most of Hong Kong's shark attacks have occurred in Sai Kung on the eastern side. Without the threat of shark attack, there is no need for the dolphins to have protective camouflage.

Nowhere else in the world are dolphins electric pink and white.

An estimated 80 dolphins remain in Hong Kong waters. Scientists predict the dolphins will be extinct within 10 to 15 years if the present death rate continues.

The dramatic rise in the mortality rates of the Chinese pink has brought demands from the United Nations for a full inquiry. The plight of Hong Kong's dolphins will be highlighted at an international UN symposium this month.

But it is not only the pink dolphin which is threatened. Since records began in 1973, 38 pink dolphin and 35 finless porpoise carcasses have been found.