Going to sea, to see sea mammals.
Last Sunday I went to meet Mr. Dolphin (AKA Thomas Tue). After meeting at Tung Chung MTR with around 30 others, we then had a quick walk to where his boat was waiting, and we spent the next 4 hours on a wonderful cruise, often in the company of dolphins.
One of Thomas's great pictures. Seeing dolphins close, or jumping, or even at all is all a matter of luck, but do expect a rockier journey on windy days.
With no guarantees in nature, Thomas has nonetheless an enviable 98% success rate, and we were not disappointed, seeing many pods and around 15 different sightings - mostly at a fair distance, but a couple came quite close to the boat. Below are my two best shots of the day. Often I just rested my camera and enjoyed looking at these large and lovely creatures swimming and diving.
I must add that Thomas takes his responsibility for environmental education, protecting wild dolphins and raising funds for the nature conservation in Hong Kong seriously. There is no dolphin chasing, just a great “gut feel” of where and when to look, backed of course by 17 years of experience and dolphin knowledge.
His tours are mainly in Cantonese for his guests, but he speaks fluent English, and we certainly felt looked after. During the tour he runs a series of talks about the dolphins, inviting questions, showing amazing pictures and sharing his knowledge. This keeps young and old alike entertained on the cruise when the dolphins are hiding elsewhere.
The Chinese white dolphin (Sousa chinensis; Chinese: 中華白海豚; pinyin: Zhōnghuá bái hǎitún).
An adult Chinese white dolphin is white or pink, and as these photos show some of the population along the Chinese coast have pink skin. These animals are warm blooded mammals, weigh c200kg, and they can live for around 40 years. They come up to the surface to breath every two to eight minutes and as Thomas helpfully pointed out, they normally come up twice in succession to breath before diving again, which helps get the photos of this challenging subject.
So why are they pink? The pink colour comes not from a pigment, but from blood vessels which were overdeveloped for thermoregulation. When chasing food these animals disperse heat to their outer layers of skin, and this can make them look even pinker.
The white dolphin is threatened by both habitat loss and pollution, and there is a possibility that Hong Kong may lose its rare Chinese white/pink dolphins unless we take 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 by the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society. Dwarfed by its surroundings, a pink dolphin's fin is seen in front of the bridge to Zhuhai. With the airport expanding behind, ferries racing to Macau, and economic development a priority, I am very much afraid that Hong Kong has made its choice, and that we will see this unique creature disappear in my lifetime.
Even dolphin watching can endanger these animals, as the Hong Kong Agricultural and Fisheries Department only has a voluntary code of conduct. The basic principles of these codes of conduct are to always observe the dolphins from a distance, and to not attempt to physically contact, feed or harm the dolphins. Additionally, boats should maintain a slow and steady speed, not exceeding 10 knots, and the boat should always maintain a parallel movement to the dolphin's course.
Thomas is the CEO of Eco Association and a columnist for Children's Science magazine. His trips include Insurance, Dolphin boating, with Professional Education Staff leading and doing presentations, with pictures Display, Group Games and Environmental Information Sharing. Our happy group as we set off, and on the boat you are free to move around. Here Thomas and I on the poop deck (no, the proper toilets were at the back)
Thomas Tue (Mr Dolphin). CEO Eco Association
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