Chinese White Dolphin

Chinese White Dolphin
Conservation status: Endangered
Missing image
The Chinese White Dolphin

Scientific classification
Species:S. chinensis
Subspecies:S. c. chinensis

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The Chinese White Dolphin (Template:Zh-cp) (Sousa chinensis chinensis) is a subspecies of the Indo-Pacific Hump-backed Dolphin and is one of eighty cetacean species. The adult dolphin has a unique pink-coloured skin. The colour of the skin is not a result of colour pigmentation, but is actually from blood vessels used for thermoregulation to prevent overheating during exertion. The adult's body length is about 220 - 250 centimetres and the infant's body length is about 1 metre. The average weight of an adult is around 150 to 230 kilograms.

The Indo-Pacific dolphins can be found throughout Southeast Asia, and they breed from South Africa to Australia. There are two subspecies, with Sumatra, one of the Indonesian islands, as the dividing line between the Chinese and the Western subspecies, Sousa chinensis plumbea.



The two subspecies differ in color and size of their dorsal fin.

The subspecies found in Southeast Asia has pinkish white skin and a larger dorsal fin but lacks the fatty hump of its South African and Australian counterparts.

Color changes in growth period

  • Birth: Black in color.
  • Childhood: Grey in color.
  • Youth age: Pinkish gray with spots.
  • Adult: Pinkish white and the spots will fade out.

Life expectancy

A Chinese White Dolphin can live as long as 40 years. The oldest dolphin lives in Hong Kong. It is known to be about 33 years old. Scientists have discovered that the age of a dead dolphin can be determined by observing the cross section of its teeth.


Chinese White Dolphins swim to the water surface to breathe every 20 to 30 seconds and after that they will dive into deep water again. A calf surfaces from the water twice as much as an adult. This is because calves have a smaller lung capacity than an adult. Adult dolphins can stay underwater for about 2 to 8 minutes but a calf can only stay underwater for 1 to 3 minutes. On average, adult dolphins rarely stay under water for more than 4 minutes.

They sometimes jump out of water and expose their whole body. This behavior, called breeching, is often impressive to human observers. Besides jumping out of water, White Dolphins also come up vertically out of the water, exposing the front half of the body. They have a pair of protruding eyes and they can see clearly in both air and water.

Reproductive cycle

Chinese White Dolphins are quite sociable creatures and usually live in small groups of 3 to 4. Female white dolphins become mature at 10 years old while the males become mature at 13 years old. The Chinese White Dolphins usually mate from the end of summer to autumn. Infant dolphins are usually born 11 months after the mating. Mature female white dolphins can give birth every three years and the parental care will last until their offsprings can find food themselves.


There are about a thousand Chinese White Dolphins found in the Pearl River Delta, the body of water between Hong Kong and Macau. In Hong Kong waters, the total population of the dolphins is about 450-740, depending on the time of year. For example, in winter, there are about 130 dolphins in Hong Kong waters. The total population of the Chinese White Dolphins found in the whole area of the Pearl River Delta was about 1,050 in 1998. (Jefferson)

Dolphin Watching

Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Ltd. has been running boat trips to visit the Chinese White Dolphins for the past five years. The dolphins mainly live in the waters of Lantau North, Southeast Lantau, the Soko Islands and Peng Chau. They primarily do this to raise awareness of Hong Kong citizens on the dolphins. Ten percent of the profits of the organization goes into research for Friends of the Earth (HK)'s Water Action Group, which is a charity aimed to raise public awareness of Hong Kong's coastal environment.


The sea of Hong Kong is becoming a very dangerous habitat for the Chinese White Dolphins. This is due to the increasing numbers of poaching, landfills, and sea traffic. Since Chinese White Dolphins are territorial animals and rarely stray far away from their habitat, the water pollution in Hong Kong has a high impact on them.

Industrial, agricultural and domestic sewage are amongst the threats to the dolphins. In the Pearl River Delta, about 190,000 cubic metres of sewage is drained into the sea without any treatment daily. Tributyltin (TBT), an anti-fouling agent, affects the immune system of the dolphins. While organochlorines like PCBs and DDT may enter the food chain which may affect the dolphins as well as the whole ecosystem. Scientists are finding larger amounts of heavy metals, such as mercury, and organic materials in the corpses of Chinese White Dolphins.

As mentioned above, the construction of the Chek Lap Kok Airport resulted a 9.5 square kilometer loss of the prime dolphin habitat. Other construction projects like the North Lantau Expressway, river trade terminal between Tuen Mun and Castle Peak Power Station and the Disney's Theme Park, need further reclamation. This will further lead to a severe loss of the living habitats of the dolphins.

Overfishing and busy boat traffic near northern Lantau also threatens the lives of the dolphins. Overfishing may be a major danger to the dolphins because there are few regulations on the fishing industry set by the Hong Kong Government. There are many fish that are caught which become 'trash fish' because they are not the right size or species to be sold for profit. Therefore, dolphins have the risk of being caught and becoming 'trash fish' as well. As for boat traffic, there are about 70 boats that passes an average Hong Kong shipping channel daily. (Mak 1996) The noise made from boat engines causes danger of interfering with the dolphins' communication channels through echolocation.

Origin of a Cantonese slang

The Cantonese has a slang "Wu Gei Bak Gei" (often written as 烏忌白忌) which means someone being a bad omen or a nuisance etc. Actually this phrase originates from the Cantonese fishermen. It should have been written as 烏鱀白鱀 because the slang refers to the black dolphins and the white Chinese River Dolphins which interrupt and ruin the fishermen's catch.

Timeline of main events

  • 1637: The Chinese White Dolphin was first discovered in Hong Kong by an adventurer Peter Mundy near the Pearl River. The species are attracted to the Pearl River Estuary because of its brackish waters.
  • Late 1980s: Environmentalists started to pay attention to the Chinese White Dolphin population.
  • Early 1990: The Hong Kong public started to become aware of the Chinese White Dolphin. This was due to the side effects of the construction of the Chek Lap Kok Airport. It was one of the world's largest single reclamation projects: the reclamation of nine square kilometers of the seabed near Northern Lantau, which was one of the major habitats of the dolphins.
  • Early 1993: Re-evaluation of the environmental effects of the construction of Chek Lap Kok Airport. This alerted eco-activists such as those from the World Wide Fund for Nature in Hong Kong, in turn bringing media attention on the matter. Soon enough, the Hong Kong Government began getting involved by funding projects to research on the Chinese White Dolphins
  • Late 1993: The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department was funded.
  • 1996: Dr. Thomas Jefferson began to conduct research on the Chinese White Dolphin's in hope of discovering more about them.
  • 1997: The Chinese White Dolphin became the official mascot of the 1997 sovereignty changing ceremonies in Hong Kong.
  • 1998: The research results of Dr. Thomas Jefferson was published in "Wildlife Monographs".
  • 1998: The Hong Kong Dolphinwatch was organized and began to run dolphin watching tours for the general public to raise the public's awareness of the species.
  • 2000: The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department started to conduct long-term observation of the Chinese White Dolphins in Hong Kong.
  • 2000: The population of Chinese White Dolphins has reached around only 80-140 dolphins in the Pearl River waters.

See also

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