Endangered Species, International, Wildlife

The Threats Facing the White Dolphins of the Pearl River Delta

By: Bianca Fantacci

The Chinese white dolphins, named so because of their unique white color, can be found in the waters of Southern China.  Sadly, nowadays the more common place to spot the dolphins is inside an aquarium.

The threats facing the Chinese white dolphins include overfishing, water pollution, heavy marine trafficking, and coastal development. Adding to this lengthy list is the potential construction of a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport. Considering that Hong Kong’s airport was built on an artificial island in the Pearl River Delta, the addition of a third runway will cause distress for the dolphins. This is because the construction will consist of a significant physical invasion into the dolphins’ habitat, which may force them to move away from the region or, worse, become numb to the airport’s expansion onto the ocean and its dangerous consequences, namely its noise pollution and a more polluted body of water to swim in.

John Wang, a biologist at Trent University in Canada who studies Hong Kong’s dolphins, expressed indignation at how the dolphins’ lives are being jeopardized.  He emphasized that if the construction takes place, dolphins could become so stressed and confused by the noise in the estuary that they would stop swimming away from noise sources, leading some observers to incorrectly assume that they were unbothered.  It would be tragic that the construction would perpetually disrupt the dolphins’ habitat as well as their mental state. It would perhaps be even more problematic if the dolphins were to move away from the area, given that they would not be headed towards safer locations.  South of Hong Kong is one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors, where hundreds of cargo ships navigate daily.  At the same, the North and the West of Hong Kong are not any safer, as they are afflicted by land reclamation, marine traffic and pollution.  As a result, the entire population could die out if the dolphins were forced to leave the region.

Today, the dolphin population of Hong Kong is in steep decline and will continue to decrease if the third runway project will take place at Hong Kong International Airport.  It is disheartening that profits are weighted more than the lives of sentient beings that have inhabited the ecosystem and the landscapes of Hong Kong for centuries, even long before Hong Kong even existed.  The Chinese dolphins remind how countless of animals held in captivity should have been living, but won’t likely remain so for long as their survival has been threatened by several manmade activities.