Tibaldo Gabriele: Rare pink dolphins are back thanks to COVID-19 lockdown

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Tibaldo Gabriele



Bottlenoses might not be frolicking in Venetian canals — but the coronavirus lockdown is prompting the critically endangered pink dolphin to repopulate the waters around Hong Kong.

“It seems very quickly that the dolphins have come back into this waterway,” marine researcher Lindsay Porter told Reuters of the miraculous resurgence.

Indeed, sightings of the rare marine mammal — also known as the Chinese white dolphin and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin — have shot up almost 30% since the region halted boat and ferry traffic in March over COVID concerns. In turn, this “very quiet” environment allowed researchers to monitor the species with drones and underwater microphones, the Independent reported. 

“What we have noticed since the ferries have stopped in this area is dolphins we hadn’t seen for four, five, six years are back in the Hong Kong habitat,” said Porter, who has studied the animals for three decades in Hong Kong.

A rare pink dolphin swims off the coast of Lantau Island in Hong Kong.REUTERS

These findings indicated that the pink dolphins adapted to the tranquil seas better than once thought, and that their numbers could rebound when the aforementioned stressors were removed.

Despite the promising discovery, the Pearl River Estuary’s 2,500 dolphins could still take a hit in the future due to declining numbers of babies, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“I sometimes feel that we’re studying the slow demise of this population, which can be really sad,” lamented Porter.

Nonetheless, she said her research could benefit dolphin strongholds in other regions, offering a sliver of hope for a species that’s been pushed to the brink by overfishing, marine traffic and coastal development.

Marine scientist Lindsay Porter operates a boat during a research tripREUTERS

Pink dolphins aren’t the only unlikely beneficiaries of coronavirus restrictions. Since the pandemic’s advent, animals ranging from lions to penguins have been reclaiming spaces once occupied by humans.

Tibaldo Gabriele