Indo-pacific dolphins known for their quirky gracefulness are returning to the Hong Kong waters after COVID-19 related travel restrictions reduced the number of the motor ferry in the region.
The amazing creatures well know for their adorable toothy ‘grins’ would usually avoid the delta of Pearl River in Hong Kong, thanks to the high traffic of ferries sailing in the region, scientists say.
According to marine scientist Lindsay Porter of the University of St. Andrews, the number of dolphins in the Pearl Rivier delta has shot up by 30% since March, after the ferry traffic was disrupted in the wake of the pandemic, Reuters reported.
By nature, the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins prefer to stick near the coasts in shallow waters, according to Whales.Org. Understandably, human-induced environmental changes force them away estuaries like the one in the Pearl River, where they like to flock.
In the recent instance, scientists were surprised to see how quickly these adorable creatures were able to make a comeback following months of changes in ferry traffic.
Porter, who has studied dolphins for three decades dropped microphones into the water and kept an eye on the dolphin activities with drones. The idea was to note the activities of these majestic creatures in the absence of ferry noise and movement.
Their research suggests, if the stressors (ferry in this case) were removed, the population of these dolphins is likely to rebound, just the way they did surprising the scientists.
According to scientists, there may be around 2k Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in the Pearl River estuary, but only a handful of them entered the waters around Hong Kong recently.
In recent times, Hong Kong has dedicated certain regions as a marine park with reduced, but not banned, ferry and ship traffic. Some of these protected areas attract the mammals, but they’re nonetheless threatened of being hit by the ferries.
The Indo-Pacific dolphins are slightly different from their common bottlenose cousins. This species (only recognized in the recent decade) is slightly smaller, tapered, and sport a slightly longer beak with more teeth.
Males can grow to become 2.7 meters long and weight around 230 kgs, while females are slightly shorter. This highly social and intelligent specie is known for its community-like pods.
Females are known to keep a large network of female friends, while the males bond strongly with ‘alliance’ with others that can last a lifetime.
In recent decades, human-induced changes (climate change, overfishing, pollution) threaten their existence. Although not an endangered species, the animals could be soon on the verge of an even bigger threat as scientists worry they’re witnessing a gradual fade-out of their populations.
This year, the Gangetic dolphins were also spotted around the highly polluted Ganga river that passes through the City of Joy Kolkata, after what is being said as 30 years, all thanks to the pandemic.
The Gangetic dolphins, also called South Asian River Dolphins are ‘critically endangered,’ and were spotted in the shores of river Ganga in Kolkata after decades. These are the only freshwater dolphins in the world.