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Pink dolphins return to Hong Kong thanks to travel restrictions

The outbreak may have saved the endangered animals from extinction

Fontaine Cheng
Written by
Fontaine Cheng

Fun fact: Hong Kong’s beloved pink dolphin isn’t actually pink. The animals reside in murky waters with little sun, and therefore lack pigmentation. Its bubblegum pink appearance is the result of warm blood pumping through vessels near the surface of the skin. Similar to humans, when these dolphins get excited they blush and can become an even brighter pink!

The world is in the midst of an outbreak, where social distancing and travel restrictions are all part of life as we now know it, and its negative effects can be felt across the globe. One positive outcome, however, points towards some environmental hope – even within our own waters – where rare pink dolphins have been spotted in the seas surrounding Hong Kong.

Thanks to a lull in human movement, along with suspended ferry services between Hong Kong and Macau since March, sightings of the endangered species have risen by 30 percent. 

The local population of these Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, or pink dolphins as they’re fondly known, has sadly dwindled over the years due to overfishing, pollution, and congested waterways in the region. Scientists estimate that only 2,500 of these rare pink dolphins are left in the wild.

Photograph: Shutterstock

During this quieter time, scientists have also been able to study the dolphins’ activity by dropping microphones and drones to monitor them. The research suggests that the vulnerable marine animals have adapted to the more tranquil environs quicker than expected, and could even be making something of a comeback. Though, according to WWF Hong Kong, the falling population is still under threat due to lower numbers of young.

Senior research scientist Dr Lindsay Porter, of the University of St. Andrews, told The Guardian that “From visual observations the dolphins are spending much more time socialising, splashing around on the surface, quite a bit of foreplay, quite a bit of sex,” says Dr Porter who has studied dolphins for 30 years in Hong Kong. She adds “Hong Kong dolphins normally live on the edges, they’re stressed, they spend their time eating and resting. So to see them playing… to see them having a good time, that was really great to see.”

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