Rare dolphins make a comeback in Hong Kong after ferry traffic is suspended due to Covid

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RETURN: Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin number up by 30% in parts of the Pearl River Delta in Hong Kong. CREDIT: Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society

Rare Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins have made a comeback in parts of the Pearl River Delta in Hong Kong.

THEIR return has been attributed to a suspension of ferry traffic in recent months due to the coronavirus health crisis.

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Experts estimate that numbers are up by 30 per cent as the cetaceans – also known as Chinese white or pink dolphins – return to parts of the river previously busy with ferries transporting passengers from Hong Kong and Macau.

As well as offering the dolphins more freedom, the suspension of ferry movement in March has also allowed researchers to study how their behaviour is affected by underwater noise, marine scientist Lindsay Porter of the University of St Andrews told Reuters.

She and her team lower microphones into the water from a small boat and use drones to watch the dolphins, and predicts the population is likely to increase.


There are estimated to be around 2,000 to 2,500 Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins in the entire Pearl River Estuary.

But, according to WWF Hong Kong, there has been a concerning drop in number in recent years.


Threats to the population include water pollution, heavy marine traffic, overfishing and coastal development.

Hong Kong’s conservation plans have centred on opening marine parks, where ship traffic is limited but not prohibited.

However, three of these areas are frequented by dolphins, and the Hong Kong WWF along with researchers fear the measures are not enough, as the aquatic mammals are still at risk of being hit by ferries moving between the protected zones.

It is hoped the work being carried out by the University of St Andrews research team in the Pearl River Delta will be able to be put to good use in helping sustain dolphin populations elsewhere.

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