Rare Chinese White Dolphins Spotted in Guangdong

By Joshua Cawthorpe, August 27, 2021

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A pod of rare white dolphins was spotted in the waters of Zhanjiang in Guangdong province last weekend.

The Zhanjiang Maritime Safety Administration of Guangdong vessel spotted the dolphins in the Dahuangjiang estuary and proceeded to slow down and alert nearby ships.

According to Guangzhou Daily, there were at least five white dolphins in the pod; some displaying their old age with eye-catching pink skin. 

Chinese white dolphins, also known as Indo-Pacific hump-backed dolphins, are endemic to the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans. They have been known to travel as far as South Africa and northern Australia. However, one of the epicenters of their kingdom has long appeared to be the Pearl River estuary.

Zhanjiang-dolphin-screenshot.pngChinese white dolphins spotted in Zhanjiang, Guangdong. Image via @交通发布/Weibo

The dolphins inhabit shallow coastal waters and are particularly vulnerable to human activity in these areas. Conservation has been underway for decades and white dolphins enjoy first-class status as a protected species. 

This most recent sighting is a testament to the progress made in reducing pollution in the area. As far back as 1993, Hong Kong’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department commissioned a study on white dolphin populations out of concern that development in the region could put them at risk.

A scientific study published by Nature in 2015 identified 492 white dolphins in the waters of Zhanjiang – the world’s second-largest population.

The construction of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, which began in 2009, has severely impacted the white dolphin habitat. 

According to Xinhua, South China Sea Fisheries Research Institute monitored the dolphins monthly between 2013 and 2017. Researcher Chen Tao reported a decline in white dolphin populations of up to 250 animals since construction had begun.

Although Zhanjiang authorities have focused their attention on reducing illegal activities and excessive pollution from maritime traffic in the area, noise is another factor that threatens the dolphin’s survival. 

As dolphins use a language of complex ‘clicks and whistles’ both for hunting and communication, noise pollution can be very destructive.

Hong Kong filmmaker, Daphne Wong, has been observing the white dolphins around Hong Kong while filming Sea of Noise – a collaborative documentary with the World Wildlife Fund. 

She paints a much more grim picture of the white dolphin population in the area, with numbers dropping as low as 32 in 2018, as per South China Morning Post.

Watch a short clip of the documentary below (VPN off):

Although Chinese authorities have made great progress in reducing pollution and elevating the quality of water protection in Guangdong and elsewhere, noise pollution is much more complicated to reduce.

Guangdong province is home to the Port of Shenzhen and the Port of Guangzhou — the world’s fourth and fifth busiest, respectively.

READ MORE: Only 47 Chinese White Dolphins Left in HK Waters, Scientists Suspect

[Cover image via Wikimedia]

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