A CONTRACT for a $2 million study of the rare pink dolphin in Hong Kong waters is to be awarded this month for work to start in early December. But last-minute ironing out of bid details may hold up the decision. Work was originally scheduled to start next month. The move comes as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has called for an immediate start to the study, as the number of dead animals found on Hong Kong beaches has tripled this year. The Agriculture and Fisheries Department's selection committee has decided which bid to recommend to the Government Tender Board and intends to pass on its choice on Friday, for a final decision on October 27. A front-runner to conduct the study is thought to be the Swire Marine Laboratory of Hong Kong University, one of the region's oldest and biggest marine research centres, which has two researchers experienced in cetacean studies lined up in Britain ready to start the work. Senior conservation officer at the Agriculture and Fisheries Department Lay Chik-chuen said the project, expected to require two researchers and take a year, would be aimed at finding out whether the dolphin was a previously unknown species and recommending possible protection measures. It would look at the feasibility of setting up a sanctuary. Mr Lay declined to say what bids had been received. ''I have some confidence that I can do it [pass on the recommendation] this Friday,'' he said. WWF campaigner Joanna Ruxton, who has been studying Hong Kong's unusual version of the humpback dolphin since 1990, said the need was urgent, as seven dead dolphins had been found this year compared with two in each of the previous two years. ''It would be a shame to find out we'd wiped out a new sub-species,'' she said. The new project will be a follow-up to a short study by Professor Bernd Wursig of Texas early this year, which recommended more in-depth work. Some of the dead dolphins washed ashore had cuts or bruises thought to be caused by boat propellers.