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.
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.
“It’s amazing that Hong Kong still has this kind of rare animal,” said Michelle Chan, as she watched from Fu Shan on a recent day.
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.
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.
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 Macau, a few times each hour, curbing one key threat to the animals.
“All vessel traffic is an issue, but high-speed ferries are a particular issue,” said 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.”
With the ferry suspension, dolphins are getting a little peace in one of their most favored areas in the region.
“What we have documented fairly clearly is that dolphins are moving back out into the ferry zone,” Mr. McCook said. “That actually is their most prime habitat under current circumstances.”
Still, the increased visibility of the white dolphins in places like the waters off Fu Shan is most likely the result of them being freer to use parts of their preferred territory rather than a sign that their numbers are rebounding, researchers say.