Simon Parry and Hazel Knowles
South China Morning Post
Sun, 05 May 2013 10:48 CDT
Distressing scenes as a mother fought to stop her dead calf from sinking into HK's polluted waters have highlighted plight of iconic pink dolphins
An hour into their journey from Tung Chung pier, the 20 members of the boat party finally got what they had been waiting for - a close encounter with the remaining pink dolphins who still make their home in Hong Kong waters.
But as the boat edged closer to the dolphins in the Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park and the eager tourists reached for their cameras, their excitement quickly turned to shock and distress.
"There were about four or five dolphins in the water and it seemed at first as if they were trying to get hold of something and support it," said Ho Tak-ching, 34, a guide with Hong Kong Dolphinwatch. "It really wasn't normal behaviour."
The dolphins were trying to help a mother support the body of her dead calf and stop it slipping below the water's surface.
"I started to film and it was then that I noticed the dead baby calf. From its size and colour, I guessed it was a newborn. It was so depressing and so very sad. While I was taking the video I couldn't stop myself crying.
"There was a group of four or five dolphins taking turns with the mother to try to keep the baby on the surface of the water. We watched it for about 30 minutes.
"At first, I didn't want to mention it to the passengers. But then some of them noticed the dead baby. They asked me, 'How has this happened?' They seemed very upset. They asked if there was something we could do to help, but I said there was nothing we could do."
Grieving and unable to accept their calves' deaths, the mother dolphins will spend up to two weeks trying to keep them on the surface of the water, exhausting themselves and going without food as other dolphins rally to help them.
These displays of epimeletic, or care-giving, behaviour demonstrate the intelligence and compassion of dolphins.