MARINE LIFE

Alone and far from home: young pilot whale appears in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour

It is thought to be the first time ever a short-finned pilot whale has been seen in Hong Kong's waters

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 January, 2015, 6:53pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 January, 2015, 9:00am

Alone and far from home, this young whale caused a stir in Tsim Sha Tsui yesterday when he surfaced near the harbourfront - but the excitement among marine experts proved greater yet.

They believe he could be the first short-finned pilot whale recorded in regional waters.

At least three teams of experts rushed to the scene but by late afternoon they still only had other people's photographs of the whale to go by.

A spokeswoman for the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation's Cetacean Stranding Response Team said it dashed to the spot near the Pacific Club at Harbour City but could not see the whale. The team also alerted the marine police.

Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Samuel Hung Ka-yiu said he, too, had a team on the scene looking for the animal.

And an Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokesman said it received notification of a sighting at 1pm and had sent a team to investigate.

Last night, the hope was that the whale had navigated its way back to the open sea.

At roughly three metres long, the whale is believed to be a juvenile. Adult short-finned pilot males grow to about 5.5 metres in length. He showed key features of the species: a bulbous forehead; no beak to speak of, and a dorsal fin set forward on the body. All being well, the whale can expect to live to around 45 years.

The foundation's spokeswoman said: "Any sighting of the short-finned pilot whale will be reported to the response team to monitor its health and whether there is a risk of the whale becoming stranded."

She said it was likely that the whale had become separated from its pod and got lost, eventually finding itself in Victoria Harbour.

Meanwhile, Hung said it was too soon to confirm the species but judging from the photos he believed there was an 80 per cent chance it was a short-finned pilot, potentially the first recorded sighting in the Pearl River Delta.

"It's hard to confirm, but if true, then it is an extremely rare [sighting]," said Hung. "These are very social animals which live in tight family groups and it was obviously lost, eventually swimming a very great distance to Hong Kong."

Hung said the whale preferred deep waters, with some known to dive to depths of 300 metres. Victoria Harbour has an average depth of about 12 metres.

He suspected that it may have come from a pod hundreds of miles away off eastern Taiwan or the Yangtze River Delta.

"The whale does not look distressed," added Hung. "It seems to have physical ability and depending on the sea traffic later at night, it will hopefully navigate its way back to the ocean."