Island of the PINK Dolphin
Though in this story its islands, emphasis on the plural, and there are actual dolphins, and the dolphins are pink! Okay, technically they are white. And I suppose when you get right down to it, this story has nothing at all to do with the book. But I liked the title. So there you have it. . .
Off the coast of Hong Kong, between the waters of Hong Kong island and Mainland China, live the Chinese White Dolphins (known scientifically as Sousa Chinensis). These dolphins are only found in, and around, southern China. In Hong Kong, the dolphins are mostly found around Lantau; in the waters near Tai O and the surrounding islands of Sha Chau, Lung Kwu Chau, and The Brothers.
The dolphins, originally thought to carry albinism, are actually born a dark grey. As they age, their grey coloring fades to white. I learned through my guide that scientists aren’t certain why this occurs, but there are two main theories.
- The first: when looking at satellite imagery of their habitat, the waters in their area are dense and cloudy with debris and silt. The sunlight can not penetrate the water enough to maintain proper melanin production in the dolphins; therefore, they lose the pigmentation they are born with.
- The second: is an evolutionary one; in the areas these dolphins reside, they have no natural predators. (The only natural predators of dolphins are sharks). The absence of predators has made the need for camouflage (the typical blue and grey coloring) nonexistent. Through many years, these dolphins have lost this particular trait.
So, now we know – well have theories anyway – why these dolphins lack pigmentation. But, if they are really “white” dolphins, why are the called “pink?” Well, I’ll tell you. . . they are flushed! No, seriously! The dolphins are in fact white, but when they exert themselves, their capillaries expand to allow increased blood flow through the skin’s surface and help cool them off – much like us humans. The more the dolphin exerts itself, the more flushed it becomes. Hence, pink dolphins! Cool huh!?!
While on the way to the boat the guide informed our group that at last count there were only 75 White Dolphins still in existence. When I asked him if there were an type of conservation efforts being made he said there is very little being done and that “protecting marine life has never been our (Hong Kong’s) priority, and Mainland China is worse.” Sadly, this didn’t come as a shock.
Accompanying our group was a marine biologist who is studying and tracking these dolphins. I learned from her that one of the problems (in addition to bureaucracy, pollution, destruction of habitat, overfishing, sewage, and sea traffic) in trying to conserve the species is that these particular dolphins do very poorly in captivity. Efforts were once made to increase population density by breeding them in captivity and releasing them back into their natural habitats, but these have ceased. However, on a somewhat brighter side, she did share that they have an updated database of 96 documented and actively tracked dolphins. She said the number is quite small, but there has been a slight increase since Hong Kong put a ban on fishing trawlers and made it illegal to kill or harm dolphins.