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Chinese white dolphin

Chinese white dolphin
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Cetacea
Family: Delphinidae
Genus: Sousa
Species: S. chinensis
Binomial name
Sousa chinensis
(Osbeck, 1765)
Chinese white dolphin range (blue area)
Tail with visible grey and pink colours

The Chinese white dolphin or Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis; Chinese: 中華白海豚; pinyin: Zhōnghuá bái hǎitún)[2] is a humpback dolphin species. An adult is white or pink and may appear as an albino dolphin to some. Uniquely, the population along the Chinese coast has pink skin,[3] and the pink colour originates not from a pigment, but from blood vessels which were overdeveloped for thermoregulation. The body length is 2 to 3.5 m (6 ft 7 in to 11 ft 6 in) for adults 1 m (3 ft 3 in) for infants. An adult weighs 150 to 230 kg (330 to 510 lb). Chinese white dolphins live up to 40 years, as determined by the analysis of their teeth.

These dolphins inhabit the waters of Southeast Asia and breed from South Africa to Australia. There are two subspecies, with Sumatra, one of the Indonesian islands, as the dividing line between the Chinese and the Western subspecies, Sousa chinensis plumbea. The two subspecies differ in color and dorsal fin size. The subspecies found in Southeast Asia has pinkish white skin and a larger dorsal fin, but lacks the fatty hump of South African and Australian relations.

At birth, the dolphins are black. They change to grey, then pinkish with spots when young. Adults are white.


  • Behavior 1
  • Reproductive cycle 2
  • Humans and the environment 3
  • Dolphin watching 4
  • Cantonese slang 5
  • Eastern Taiwan Strait (ETS) population 6
  • Conservation 7
  • Timeline of main events 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Chinese white dolphins rise to the water surface to breathe for 20 to 30 seconds and after that, they will dive into deep water again. A calf dolphin surfaces from the water twice as much as an adult, because calves have smaller lung capacities than adults. Adult dolphins can stay underwater for about two to eight minutes, but a calf can only stay underwater for one to three minutes. Adult dolphins rarely stay under water for more than four minutes. They sometimes leap completely out of the water. They may also rise up vertically from the water, exposing the dorsal half of their bodies. A pair of protruding eyes allows them to see clearly in both air and water.

Reproductive cycle

Chinese white dolphins are sociable creatures and live in groups of three to four. Female white dolphins become mature at 10 years old, while the males become mature at 13 years old. They usually mate from the end of summer to autumn. Infant dolphins are usually born 11 months after the mating. Mature females can give birth every three years, and the parental care will last until their offspring can find food themselves.

Humans and the environment

The white dolphin has been threatened, mostly by Hong Kong's pollution. Conservationists warned Monday that Hong Kong may lose its rare Chinese white dolphins, also known as pink dolphins for their unique colour, unless it takes urgent action against pollution and other threats. Their numbers in Hong Kong waters have fallen from an estimated 158 in 2003 to just 78 in 2011, with a further decline expected when figures for 2012 are released next month, said the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society. “It is up to the government and every Hong Kong citizen to stand up for dolphins. We risk losing them unless we all take action,” said society chairman Samuel Hung. A tour guide from Hong Kong Dolphinwatch spotted a group of pink dolphins helping a grieving mother support the body of her dead calf above the water in an attempt to revive it. The scene, captured on video and widely shared on Facebook, has raised fresh concerns about the dwindling population in a city where dolphin watching is a tourist attraction. “We’re 99 percent certain the calf died from toxins in the mother’s milk, accumulated from polluted seawater,” said Hong Kong Dolphinwatch spokeswoman Janet Walker, who added it was the third such incident reported in April alone. Fewer than 2,500 of the mammals survive in the Pearl River Delta, the body of water between Macau and Hong Kong, with the majority found in Chinese waters and the rest in Hong Kong.[4]

Dolphin watching

Hong Kong Dolphinwatch has been running boat trips to visit the Chinese white dolphins for the past 12 years. The dolphins mainly live in the waters of Friends of the Earth (HK)'s Water Action Group, which is a charity aimed to raise public awareness of Hong Kong's coastal environment.

There have been some recent reports of dolphin watching practices that have further endangered the Chinese white dolphins, such as in Sanniang Bay in

  • The Agriculture, Fishies and Conservation Department
  • Hong Kong Dolphinwatch
  • Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society
  • Convention on Migratory Species page on the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin
  • Official webpage of the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region

External links

  1. ^ Reeves, R.R., Dalebout, M.L., Jefferson, T.A., Karczmarski, L., Laidre, K., O’Corry-Crowe, G., Rojas-Bracho, L., Secchi, E.R., Slooten, E., Smith, B.D., Wang, J.Y. & Zhou, K. (2008). Sousa chinensis. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 24 March 2009.
  2. ^ "Sousa chinensis" in Mammal Species of the World.
  3. ^ WWF Hong Kong. Retrieved on 2014-05-15.
  4. ^ Conservationists warn: Hong Kong risks losing rare ‘pink dolphins’.
  5. ^ Plight of dolphins major issue amid city expansion. (2010-09-03). Retrieved on 2014-05-15.
  6. ^ Show China. Retrieved on 2014-05-15.
  7. ^ 厦门海之风游艇带您来五缘湾看海豚_厦门海之风游艇有限公微信文章_微儿网. Retrieved on 2014-05-15.
  8. ^ Code of Conduct for Dolphin Watching Activities, Hong Kong Agricultural and Fisheries Department. (PDF) . Retrieved on 2014-05-15.
  9. ^ a b c d Wang, John Y. et al. (eds.) (2007) CONSERVATION ACTION PLAN FOR THE EASTERN TAIWAN STRAIT POPULATION OF INDO-PACIFIC HUMPBACK DOLPHINS. National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium
  10. ^ Population differences in the pigmentation of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, Sousa chinensis, in Chinese waters : mammalia. (2008-10-17). Retrieved on 2014-05-15.
  11. ^ Sheehy, D.J. (2009) Potential Impacts to Sousa chinensis from a. Proposed Land Reclamation along the West Coast of Taiwan.
  12. ^ Wang, John Y. et al. (eds.) (2004) RESEARCH ACTION PLAN FOR THE HUMPBACK DOLPHINS OF WESTERN TAIWAN. The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium
  13. ^ a b "Appendix II" of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). As amended by the Conference of the Parties in 1985, 1988, 1991, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2005 and 2008. Effective: 5th March 2009.
  14. ^ Hong Kong's Striking Dolphins Dwindle to Just Dozens | ABC News Blogs – Yahoo. (2013-06-21). Retrieved on 2014-05-15.
  15. ^ Carwardine, Mark (2002) Sharks and Whales. DK ADULT. ISBN 0789489902. p. 362.
  16. ^ Jefferson and Rosenbaum (2014) Taxonomic revision of the humpback dolphins (Sousa spp.), and description of a new species from Australia.


See also

  • 1637: The Chinese white dolphin was first discovered in Hong Kong by the adventurer Peter Mundy near the Pearl River. The species are attracted to the Pearl River Estuary because of its brackish waters.
  • 1765: Pehr Osbeck gives the first scientific description of the species.[15]
  • Late 1980s: Environmentalists started to pay attention to the Chinese white dolphin population.
  • Early 1990: The Hong Kong public started to become aware of the Chinese white dolphin. This was due to the side effects of the construction of the Chek Lap Kok Airport. It was one of the world's largest single reclamation projects: the reclamation of nine square kilometers of the seabed near Northern Lantau, which was one of the major habitats of the dolphins.
  • Early 1993: Re-evaluation of the environmental effects of the construction of Chek Lap Kok Airport. This alerted eco-activists such as those from the World Wide Fund for Nature in Hong Kong, in turn bringing media attention on the matter. Soon enough, the Hong Kong Government began getting involved by funding projects to research on the Chinese white dolphins
  • Late 1993: The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department was founded.
  • 1996: Dr. Thomas Jefferson began to conduct research on the Chinese white dolphins in hope of discovering more about them.
  • 1997: The Chinese white dolphin became the official mascot of the 1997 sovereignty changing ceremonies in Hong Kong.
  • 1998: The research results of Dr. Thomas Jefferson was published in "Wildlife Monographs".
  • 1998: The Hong Kong Dolphinwatch was organized and began to run dolphin watching tours for the general public to raise the public's awareness of the species.
  • 2000: The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department started to conduct long-term observation of the Chinese white dolphins in Hong Kong.
  • 2000: The population of Chinese white dolphins has reached around 80–140 dolphins in the Pearl River waters.
  • 2014: Dr. Thomas Jefferson and Dr. Howard C. Rosenbaum revise the taxonomy of the humpback dolphins (Sousa spp.). They describe a new species, the Australian humpback dolphin and define the accepted common name for this species, the Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphin. [16]

Timeline of main events

The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin is also covered by the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region (Pacific Cetaceans MoU).

[14] of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals ([13] The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin is listed on Appendix II


In addition to threats from anthropogenic activities, dolphins are potentially at the risk due to the small population size, which may result in inbreeding and decreased genetic and demographic variability. Finally, climate change causes more typhoons to hit the west coast of Taiwan and cause great disturbance to dolphins’ habitats.

Hydroacoustic disturbance is another critical issue for dolphins. Sources of noise can come from dredging, pile driving, increased vessel traffic, seawall construction, and soil improvement. For all cetaceans, sound is vital for providing information about their environment, communicating with other individuals, and foraging; also, they are very vulnerable and sensitive to the effects of noise. Elevated anthropogenic sound level causes many dysfunctions of their behaviors, and even leads to death.[9]

Still another problem is reduced amount of freshwater flows into estuaries from rivers. Since ETS population of humpback dolphins is closely associated with estuaries habitat, the elimination of freshwater discharge from rivers significantly decreases the amount of suitable habitats for dolphins.[9]

Second, fishing activities along the west coast of Taiwan are thriving, and cause many impacts on dolphins. Widespread and intensive use of gillnets and vessel strikes are potential threats for dolphins. Over exploitation of fish by fisheries’ is another threat for the dolphin population. It has led to disturbance of marine food web or trophic level and reduces marine biodiversity. Therefore, dolphins have not enough prey to live on.

There are several facts that result in the decreasing number of ETS population of humpback dolphins. First, large-scale modification of the shoreline by industrial development including hydraulic filling for creating industrial or science parks, seawall construction and sand mining cause habitat fragmentation and diminish dolphin’s habitats. In addition, exploitation of shoreline also contributes to toxic contamination flows into dolphin’s habitats. The chemical pollution from industrial or agricultural and municipal discharge results in impaired health of dolphins, for instance, reproductive disorders, and compromised immune system.[12]

Taiwan is a densely populated island and highly developed country, which has many industrial development projects, especially along the west coast, where the ETS populations of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins live. Based on data collected between 2002 and 2005, the ETS population of humpback dolphins was less than 100 individuals.[9] Unfortunately, the newest data released in 2012 shows that only 62 individuals are left. It means during those 7 years, population of humpback dolphins is being destroyed constantly and severely. A preliminary examination revealed that the ETS humpback dolphin population meets the IUCN Red List criteria for “Critically Endangered”.[11] Without further protection and regulation, this population will go extinct quickly.

The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins were first discovered along the west coast of Taiwan in 2002. Based on a survey done in 2002 and 2003, they are often found in waters <5m deep, and no evidence shows that they appear in water deeper than 15m.[9] A study in 2008 found that the population of humpback dolphins, which occupies a linear range of about 500 km^2 along the central west coast of Taiwan, is genetically distinct from all populations living in other areas.[10] And this population is called eastern Taiwan Strait (ETS) population.

Eastern Taiwan Strait (ETS) population

The Cantonese language has a slang expression wu gei bak gei (often written as 烏忌白忌, "black taboo white taboo") which means someone or something is a bad omen or a nuisance. The phrase originates from the Cantonese fisher people, because they claim the dolphins eat the fish in their nets. However, in proper Chinese, it should be written as 烏鱀白鱀, with the gei originally in olden Chinese, meaning dolphins. The wu refers to the finless porpoises, which are black, and the bak, white, referring to Chinese river dolphins. These two species often interrupt and ruin the fishermen's catch. As years passed, because "dolphin" sounds the same as "bad luck", the meaning of the phrase changed. However, in Cantonese, wu refers to the calves of Chinese white dolphin and bak refers to the adults. Nowadays, dolphins are not called gei anymore, but 海豚 (hoi tuen), literally meaning "sea pig", with none of the negative connotations for pig unlike in English.

Cantonese slang


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