June 13th, 2011
11:20 AM ET

Looking out for China's rare pink dolphins

"Pink dolphin, two o'clock!"

It takes a moment to orient myself to the analog directive, but I manage to turn and spot it in time. A few yards ahead of me in the South China Sea is a flash of pink dorsal fin.

I have seen my first pink dolphin.

And they're not just pink, they're bubble-gum pink. So pink you would think it's a Sanrio marketing ploy, but it's the real deal. This is the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin which can be found in Southern China, the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific.

But only the ones here, in China's Pearl River Delta, are pink.

Samuel Hung, scientist and activist with the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, tells me: "We are not sure why they're pink in color. When they're dead, they're white. We think it's a blushing effect, and that's how they regulate their internal heat."

The dolphins are grey when they're born and gradually become pink as they mature.  But these extraordinary creatures are dwindling in number. In the entire Pearl River Delta, their population stands at around 2,500. Off the coast of Hong Kong, they are only 100 pink dolphins left.

It's not hard to understand why. My journey to see them begins off a small port near Hong Kong's busy international airport. It's a highly congested area where runways, highways and railways collide - much of it built in dolphin habitat.

My guide, Janet Walker of Hong Kong Dolphinwatch, says the declining population is making her job more difficult.

'The great, amazing sightings that we usually see regularly have been fewer and further between," Walker tells me. "We probably have 3 to 5 on an average day, where we would have seen 6 to 8 several years ago."

Aboard the Hong Kong Dolphinwatch cruising boat, I am with a handful of other curious animal lovers including a little girl from Taiwan. She cries out in joy for what she thinks is her first sighting. Alas, it's just some Styrofoam boards floating by.

"Pollution is a main thing," Walker points out. "We dump 400,000 cubic meters of raw sewage every day in our harbor.  That's about 400 truck loads."

As we head further out to sea, we see the massive container ships in the distance. Sea traffic is yet another man-made factor threatening Hong Kong's pink dolphins.

But when we reach a couple small fishing boats, our sea safari pays off. We come across a family of pink dolphins gathering to feast on the throwaway catch.

The sightings are breathtaking. I manage to spot at least five individual pink dolphins, and follow them as they swim around our boat and into the distance.

But this beautiful spectacle is facing even more threats. Conservationists say plans for another airport runway and a new bridge between Mainland China and Macau will further encroach the dolphin habitat.  Hong Kong's government says the plans were approved after it passed the required environmental impact assessments.

Janet Walker has been looking for, and looking after, the territory's resident dolphins since she joined Hong Kong Dolphinwatch in the mid-90s. I ask her if our pink dolphin sighting is something that can be repeated a generation from now. The prognosis is grim.

"If we're talking 25 years, I don't see us being out here then."

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Inacio milhomem

    Today,i,m with satisfation ,because , i can to use the name Anchor &Report, about this onnly magnify BLOG Cnn by correspondent :Kristie Lu Stout,,i,had opporunity seeing on Sea, She was wearing a nice model Sailor Pink and white dres. it's unforgettable momen, to join ,but however, showed Dolplin in danger !

    June 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  2. Angela

    Pretty typical of China to dump 400,000 cubic meters of raw sewage in theier harbor and not care how it affects their environment. What are their evornomental impact assessments??? What are their guidelines??? As long as it makes them money, they could care less about their environment or anyone elses! That's their guideline – M-O-N-E-Y!!

    June 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  3. Mário Silva

    Eco Solutions are certainly d'accord with the plans approved after it passed the required environmental impact assessments.
    More than 50% of the costs can be one good reference for ambiental research impacts . We must believe .
    So stay enjoing this beautiful video and China's rare pink dolphins.
    WONDERFUL story and one more very good ICT example.

    June 15, 2011 at 5:17 am | Reply
  4. Ryan

    China sucks.

    June 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Reply
  5. Mário Silva

    Vivaldi Four Seasons (Spring) – Y. Wang, E. Ax, N. Goerner, J. Quentin
    Just 4 hits in this wonderful post. Is also a rare beautiful end where 4 happy events are going for developing a future World. One is my first comment,...

    June 17, 2011 at 4:26 am | Reply
  6. Roxanne Kremer, CEO Pink Amazon River Dolphins

    Great that CNN covered the PINK DOLPHINS of China, thank you, but we need to cover the other PINK Dolphns of the World too. It is a shame we lost a FLAG SHIP SPECIES to extinction the Yangtze River Dolphins Dec.,2006. The Pink Dolphins off the coast of Taiwan are almost extinct!
    Please come to film the Amazon Pink River Dolphins in Peru & Brasil where our non profit has been working for 28 yrs protecting the rivers against illegal commercial fishing. Please visit our website:
    http://www.isptr-pard.org to read what the Brasilian fishermen are doing, they are killing the pink river dolphins for CATFISH BAIT,over 1,000 killed this yr already! We need your help to expose this to the world & stop it.
    Roxanne Kremer, CEO
    The International Society for the Preservation of the Tropical Rainforests ISPTR & Preservation of the Amazonian River Dolphins, PARD

    June 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
  7. Mário Silva

    Do you know that we are in constant mutation ?
    Do you know that global warming is a natural phenomena going to Glaciar and InterGlaciar periods , in a nonlinear neither constant way, where all specimes become transformed and naturally exctint by NATURAL SELECTION ?
    ...Naturally ,...PINK,... Dolphins are very sensible one ( 1 ) degree of temperature changes and can´t get the necessary capacity of adaption .
    ...Perhaps you understand ,...now, the Vivaldi four seasos sugestion,
    i hope so .It´s a life beauty ver grateful for our sensibility and high HUMAN capacities.

    June 19, 2011 at 2:36 am | Reply
  8. junie

    I didn't even know anything about pink dolphins until yeaterday when I saw a picture on someone's post on facebook. What beautiful creatures. So sad to know that through progress through the ages we have done so much harn to this beautiful earth God has so richly bestowed upon us. Progress is good and bad. I hope these beautiful dolphins can be around for a very long time to come.

    July 4, 2012 at 4:53 am | Reply
  9. hkmarinelife

    Reblogged this on hkmarinelife.

    July 12, 2012 at 3:46 am | Reply

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