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HONG KONG — The most popular reward for hiking to the top of Fu Shan, a hill near Hong Kong’s westernmost point, is a selfie backed by the setting sun, the gleaming new bridge across the Pearl River or a flight landing at the nearby airport.rr
But for those who look more closely, there is the chance of a rarer prize: A glimpse of Chinese white dolphins swimming among fishing boats and cargo ships in the milky jade water.rr
“It’s amazing that Hong Kong still has this kind of rare animal,” said Ms Michelle Chan, as she watched from Fu Shan on a recent day.rr
On the water below, a half-dozen tourist boats from the nearby fishing village of Tai O surrounded a single white dolphin. People cheered as it breached.rr
The species, also known as the pink dolphin for the flush colouration it gets while swimming actively in warm waters, is found through much of coastal south China and Southeast Asia. It has a special place in Hong Kong, where it appears in statues and school lessons and was a mascot for the 1997 return of the former British colony to Chinese control.rr
The marine mammals have maintained a precarious existence in the Pearl River Delta, which has the world’s second-highest volume of freight shipments, several cities with populations in the millions and an unrelenting pace of development in and along its waters.rr
But the number of dolphins in Hong Kong have declined by as much as 80 per cent over the past 15 years, according to a report by 15 conservation groups and regional universities, as pollution, marine traffic and large-scale land reclamation projects have made the environment increasingly hostile.rr
rStaff members of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society on the lookout for Chinese white dolphins in the waters near Hong Kong on March 5, 2021. Photo: The New York Timesrr
The construction of a new runway for Hong Kong’s international airport and a bridge that links the city with the western side of the Pearl River has also disrupted areas that were once prime dolphin habitat but now rarely see the animals.rr
The coronavirus pandemic, however, has spurred some hope that the dolphins could find respite. Regional travel restrictions led to the suspension of high-speed ferries that crossed the Pearl River Delta between Hong Kong and Macao, a few times each hour, curbing one key threat to the animals.rr
“All vessel traffic is an issue, but high-speed ferries are a particular issue,” said Dr Laurence McCook, head of oceans conservation for the WWF-Hong Kong. “They move so fast there’s a risk of vessel strike, but they also just physically disturb the dolphins because the dolphins run away from them.”rr
With the ferry suspension, dolphins are getting a little peace in one of their most favoured areas in the region.