Sunday, 27 September 2015

Days with the Dolphins

In this summer, being a part of Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society I learnt more than what I could expect. It was certainly an inspiring and fulfilling research experience, which guided the way for my future path and career. Doing boat and land surveys required great physical and mental efforts, as there were days we encountered tough weather, and there were days we had zero sighting. Every sighting moment of Chinese White Dolphins and Finless Porpoises became precious and means so much to us. Watching them dancing, twirling and spinning in the big blue ocean enlightened my spirit and motivated me to protect them. In fact, at the same time it saddened me to notice that they were under numerous threats in Hong Kong waters. The staff members at HKDCS continue to collect distribution data of Hong Kong cetaceans and are dedicated to arouse public awareness in the conservation of Chinese White Dolphins and Finless Porpoises, as well as cetaceans in other countries.  It seems powerless for me to speak for the protection of cetaceans, as corporate interests and government decisions are far beyond what I can control, but I believe we together can make a better world with kindness, beauty, and truth. Here I am sharing my internship experience with all my sincerity, in the hopes of spreading the words for those intelligent creatures.

“Two months would be passed in the twinkling of an eye, and the knowledge and technique we teach to every single intern is fairly similar. Yet, your attitude and action is the key factor of how much you could gain. Hopefully you may treasure the opportunity for working here.” Sitting at the office before signing the internship contract, here was the sentence said by Samuel, the president of Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, which went into my heart and gave me courage to learn more from the team in the past two months.


Meeting a Dead Calf on the First Boat Trip
                                                                      
The journey actually beg
an on June 18, 2015. I went on a boat survey for an interview, which was conducted in West and Southwest Lantau waters. Standing at the top of the boat, I was holding a pair of binoculars and trying to scan for the dolphins. It was a tough morning, as the sea was shining so bright that it hurt my eyes and the sun was burning my skin. On the spur of the moment, a Chinese White Dolphin rose up on the sea surface, and shortly afterwards, we were surrounded by them. As if they knew that we would not hurt them, they came so close to us and swam across under our boat. It was stunning that they were breaching, spy-hopping and tail-slapping in front of us, and I feasted my eyes on observing their movements. After the group of dolphins left, we discovered a grey object floating in the sea, and an adult dolphin was staying beside it. My heartbeat underwent sudden alter, when the grey object was confirmed to be a dead dolphin calf. The dolphin next to the calf, undoubtedly was the mother, repeatedly dragged it underwater, trying to protect her calf even though it was already dead. To avoid threatening the dolphin, we decided to drive away our boat. Samuel told me it was a grieving process for highly intelligent mammals, but it was unusual for the dolphin to react in this aggressive way. It was upsetting to realize the fact that firstborn calves commonly die from the bio-accumulation of chemical contaminants in the milk of their mothers. After this day, I could not stop thinking about the dead calf, I could not fall asleep that night and I could not even let myself eat any meat for sometime. It was heart-breaking to watch the mother dolphin mourn for her dead calf after encountering a group of playful dolphins breaching in front of us.

I am worried for these beautiful and innocent creatures living in the sea, as their decline are directly linked with
 human activities. Fortunately, I know there are lots of non-profit organisations trying their best to save the life of the cetaceans, and I am glad that I could work with the members at HKDCS and other interns at World Wide Fund. Their passion and determination enlighten my spirit and strengthen my mind. 


Meeting at the Book Fair
In the beginning of the internship, I participated in the book fair
 held annually at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre. When I was selling books at the booth of the Society of Hong Kong Nature Explorers, I got to see that there were lots of activists and authors conveying conservation messages to the public, and taking actions to protect nature and wildlife in Hong Kong.
Ray was one of the authors there, who organized night trips 
to observe amphibians and reptiles. Through joining the trips I was inspired to see things from the perspectives of the wildlife, and I was glad to see the natural beauty in the darkness of Hong Kong. I realize that lots of wildlife, such as buffalo, wild boar and snake, are actually misunderstood by the public. It is rare for them to hurt human out of no reason, instead, humans are usually the ones who try to harm them in the first place. 
                                   Booth of the Society of Hong Kong Nature Explorers





   Books about the nature in Hong Kong         Natural beauty in the darkness

Days on the Sea

Most of the time we stayed on the boat and conducted survey through line transect method, so as to estimate the population of Chinese White Dolphin and Finless Porpoise in Hong Kong waters. When we got a sighting, we had to estimate the group size, identify group composition and behaviours of the dolphins, as well as taking photos or videos for later identification. Apart from practising the sighting skills, I also broadened my knowledge in geography and navigation aspects. In truth, lots of things happened every day on the boat, and the feelings from my heart were so strong and complicated, making it so hard for me to put them into words. I was not a person good at explaining myself; however, I tried to write daily journals to remember all the stories that happened. For the first time I saw a porpoise when I was using a pair of binoculars scanning the sea, I screamed out loud, got so excited, but the porpoise was so shy that it just  showed up for a few seconds; For the first time I heard the whirring noise of the flying fishes, they passed by our boat group by group, with a sense of joy and freedom; For the first time I smelled the taste of dried shrimps, laying on the fishing boat closely passed by us, and the fishermen were skilfully handling them under the sunny weather; For the first time I did snorkeling in Ung Kong Wan, a beautiful place to visit at the south of Sai Kung Peninsula, and Leon showed me a White ribbon eel beside the corals; For the first time I felt like I  belong to the sea, looking at the dolphins and hearing them singing the most touching songs, I wished I could jump off the boat and swim with them. I wanted to thank Viena, Taison, Leon, Vincent and Samuel for giving me such joyful moments and teaching me lots of things more than I could have imaginedThe other two interns, Sam and Kar Long, were passionate partners. I could still remember the smiling eyes on Sam’s face when she saw a dolphin, and her sadden face when we talked about the coastal development destroying their habitat. At the same time, I was impressed that Vincent could distinguish the dolphin individuals at a glance, and I really appreciated the generosity of Captain Chan, that when I was exhausted on the boat he always gave me something to eat or drink. The boating life was really tough, and we had to stay focused even when the beaufort scale was greater than three. We got roasted under the burning sun, got soaked in the crying rain, and got blown by the howling winds for many times. Nevertheless, I believed every cloud has a silver lining, and the unpredictable sea always gave us some surprises. When we got to see the dolphins jumping out freely from the sea, we smiled from the deepest part of our hearts. 








Dolphins Surfacing


The sounds of the dolphins


A group of playful dolphins swam under our boat



Days on the hills
Some of the days we conducted land-based surveys at Tai-O and Shum Wat, and those days were even more exhausting than the boat surveys. Sam, Kar Long, and I cooperated with the interns from World Wildlife Fund on the days at Tai-O. To investigate whether the dolphin watching boats caused a negative impact on the dolphins, we observed the interaction between them and record
ed the dive time of the dolphins. It was hard for us to observe the Walla-Walla while keeping track of a specific dolphin. With more practising, we finally found out the way to do multiple tasks there. Thanks to Michelle for buying food for us at the station when we were sweating heavily. I could still remember one day we saw a very playful dolphin, which kept spy-hopping near the shore for the whole day, Sam, Zabrina and I had so much fun watching it; I could still remember one day we encountered heavy rain, Zabrina, Kar Long and I ran slowly through the slippery road, bending our body when the thunder was hitting really close to us. There are actually so much more to say, but instead of writing them all down, I choose to remember them in the bottom of my heart.
                                                      The other scenes in Tai-O



Shum Wat was another land-based station twenty minutes on foot from the main town in Tai-O. On the way hiking uphill, there were lots of spider webs and it was fun to watch each other’s face hitting the webs accidentally. At the station I learnt to get the sighting angle using the theodolite, and inputting the theodolite data into the laptop. On the days there I saw oil spills and tons of trash on the sea surface, and I felt worried for the lifelihood of Chinese White Dolphins in Hong Kong waters. While suffering the impact of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge construction, they are also facing many threats from different aspects, including over-fishing and underwater noise pollution. The biggest threat they are going to face is the developmental construction of third runway north of the existing airport. The construction will reclaim 650 hectares of dolphin habitats, which may lead to the disappearance of Chinese White Dolphins from Hong Kong waters in the future.

Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge









Last but not least
In this summer, I got
sun-burnt and tanned and exhausted, but I had not the slightest regret for working with the members from Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society. Samuel, Vincent, Leon, Viena, Taison were trying their best to conserve the cetaceans despite the fact that there were lots of obstacles out of their control, and I was impressed by their strong focus under the adverse weather.  I had never imagined that dolphins could bring me that much motivation through their smile, their sounds, and their movements, and I wished to be like them, swimming freely in the big blue ocean. On the other hand, it was upsetting to see Chinese White Dolphins and Finless Porpoises struggling to live due to anthropogenic causes. Our actions every day are affecting the ocean which connects to all of us.  I believe that human beings and all the living creatures in the world can, and should, live together in a harmonious manner. May the joyous spirits of Chinese White Dolphins and Finless Porpoises keep glowing and gleaming in the future, with the change from all of us together.



Dolphins breaching, feeding and socializing beside our boat




 Every cloud has a silver lining.



- Hilary Wong   September, 2015

Friday, 25 September 2015

My HKDCS internship


During my university life, I was looking forward to gain practical experience in field of wildlife conservation.  Due to my great interest in marine mammal, I joined the HKDCS internship after my graduation.

Some people asked me: 'Why don't you spend more time in your graduation trip or find a new job as you had already graduated?'.  Even though I really want to travel around the world and have a long vacation, I also wish to have a productive journey which allow me to learn more in the aspect of environmental science.  Therefore, I prefer joining the internship rather than extending my travel or starting a long term job.


My internship involves 3 types of work: 1) boat survey, 2) land-based survey and 3) data processing and input.  Conducting a boat survey allow me to follow the experts to apply the line-transect method to assess the abundance and distribution of the Chinese white dolphins and finless porpoise populations.  Also, photos of the dorsal fin were taken from the sighted dolphins in parallel for identification.  This photo-identification one one hand prevent the duplication of sighting, one the other hand help us to study the life history, living range and social structure of the dolphins.  As for the land based survey, I assisted researchers to use the theodolite to track the movement and behavior of the dolphin in order to study the their response to the artificial impacts generated from inshore constructions and marine traffic.  In addition, I was granted the opportunity to join another land-based survey which was organized by the WWF.  I had to record the any sighting of dolphins, measure the their dive time interval and monitor the dolphin watching activities.



In the office, I was responsible to process the calculation and digital input of the raw data collected from the surveys.  The office is a mini library where a considerable amount of books related to the cetacean biology and conservation are stored.  I had not only acquire knowledge from reading these books but also the news clippings which filed the local news about dolphins published from 1999 to 2015.

Sailing across different water territories in Hong Kong are one of the most special and unique experience I ever had.  Despite the fact that I occasionally suffered from seasick, I love travelling to various locations in the water where I had not been to before.  From the boat survey, I saw lots of cute dolphins and enjoyed the magnificent views of the rock, mountain and sea in Hong Kong.


More importantly, I am glad that I had made a lot of friends I cherished.  They guided me through the whole internship and give me a lot of pleasure.  They are devoted to make contribution in the field of the wildlife conservation and stand for the animal right.  Talking to them help me to gain insight of the their perspective regarding to the environmental conservation issues.  For example, Taison is a staff who becomes a vegetarian in the hope of  discouraging cruelty and abuse to animals. Chatting with the WWF volunteers and the captains of our survey vessel also give me a lot of information about the dolphin conservation.


This is a unforgettable journey which I don't regret to join~ :D

Kar Long Leung
25 Sep 2015


  

Saturday, 15 August 2015

My Time With the Chinese White Dolphins

During these past two months working for the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society I nearly got a heat stroke, been sunburned more times then I can count, and gained weeks worth of valuable research experience. Being able to watch finless porpoises and Chinese white dolphins in their natural habitat made every difficult day worth it. The creativity and curiosity of the dolphins consistently amazed me. Their socializing behavior was the most interesting behavior to watch. During the times when a group of dolphins would come close to our boat we could see them breaching on top of one another, play fighting and swimming close together. These moments were truly heartwarming because even though this dolphin population is facing so many threats they still socialize together in the presence of our research group. 
Before beginning this internship I knew that the work would be physically demanding and at times it was. However, I have learned that to get accurate data while doing fieldwork it requires patience. There were some days during boat and land surveys that we had zero sightings. It was on these days that my focus faltered, but it was inspiring to see the HKDCS staff members continuing to stay focused even during our most tedious surveys. While doing boat surveys I learned how to do the line transect method to estimate the dolphin population of a given area. I also helped do off-effort searching for dolphins and porpoises using binoculars to scan the area. On days when we went to Tai O we collaborated with interns from the World Wildlife Fund. Our task was to record dolphin dive time and the interactions between dolphins and dolphin watching tourist boats. With this information we could determine whether the tourist boats were disturbing or endangering the dolphins. At first I thought that this was too much for me to keep track of at one time. I was worried that the data we collected would not be accurate. But after a few weeks of doing this survey I learned how to record dolphin behavior and the boat behaviors at the same time. Hilary, Zabrina and I made a good team.



I did not expect this internship to take such a large emotional toll on me. The reality of the situation is that the cetacean populations are struggling in Hong Kong waters. The goal of our organization is to collect accurate information about marine mammal distribution in Hong Kong. Additionally, we want to educate the general public and the government about the state of the dolphin and porpoise populations. Due to the HKDCS ‘s thorough collection of data over the past couple decades it can be seen that the dolphin population decline is a direct response to human caused threats. The greatest of these threats being habitat destruction. This includes land reclamation for the airport and increased boat traffic around Lantau due to the construction of the Hong Kong Zhu Hai Macau Bridge. Hong Kong naturally has an amazing amount of biodiversity. Therefore, it saddens me to see these species being overlooked by the Hong Kong government in favor of new developments.



During my third week of the internship two dolphins passed away. One of these cases was a young calf. This is a fairly common occurrence. The staff members were telling me that the mother kept pushing the small calf body underwater as if to protect it from our research boat. Then Leon showed me a video of this behavior. These dolphin calves commonly die from pollution and toxins that bioaccumulate in the mother’s milk. This happens due to the high levels of industrial pollution in the pearl river delta. It really hit me hard. In addition to this news, a dead adult dolphin had also been found that week. It made me feel very discouraged to hear about this poor baby dying as well. I know my colleagues are used to dealing with these dolphin deaths, especially the deaths of young calves. I admire them so much for continuing to do this work even though the survival of this dolphin population seems very uncertain. 

These deaths made me worry about the population numbers since the death rate seems to exceed the birth and survival rate of the baby dolphins. The dolphin population has now fallen to about 60 and the porpoise population is estimated to be around 100. This experience also made me feel very emotional about the individual dolphins. I couldn’t stop thinking about this dolphin mother desperately trying to revive and protect her calf that died from causes that she could not comprehend. These innocent creatures are trying to survive in their natural habitat and human activities carelessly harm them everyday. After seeing them so active and lively when they play with each other all I want is for them to continue to exist in Hong Kong waters. It makes me very angry that the Hong Kong government keeps allowing unnecessary construction projects to endanger this special dolphin population. It all made me feel so powerless to work within our current system where the regulating body is so influenced by corporate interest and the Chinese government. However, it was the unwavering passion of the staff members at the HKDCS that pushed me forward and motivated me to keep working. Samuel, Taison, Viena, Leon and Vincent are so dedicated to this important work. The other intern, Hilary, and I had so much fun learning from the research team this summer. They made us feel like part of their family. While attending protests with the team and listening to them passionately talk about the plight of dolphins in captivity I grew to see that there are so many people working to save wildlife in Hong Kong. Furthermore, we met other activists who are working to end the slaughter of dolphins in Japan and other places in Asia. Additionally, learning about other endangered marine mammals such as the Vaquita has inspired me to pursue marine mammal research and conservation as I continue my studies. This internship was extremely fulfilling. I would not have wanted to spend my summer any other way. 

-Samantha Klein 



           


Friday, 21 November 2014

Unforgettable episode in my life


Do you miss me? I miss you so much! I would like to share an unusual and exciting thing with you.

 On Monday evening (17 November 2014), Yuki and I wore the graduation gown for taking photos after finishing the boat survey. We did take a lot of photos to track our wonderful moment.
 
Unexpectedly, a piece of amusing thing happened on me. It is interesting that a strong wind blew my graduation hat away at sea. Thanks Mrs Ng (our boatman’s wife) for picking my hat up from the sea and washing it. Was it big joke! Haha….  Also, I would like to say thanks for Heyman who were taking those funny photos for me at such straight moment. Without a doubt, it would be an impressive and unforgettable episode in my life. I hope all my friends (including you) would have a smiling face when seeing my pictures below.
 
 
                     Mrs Ng (our boatman’s wife) is picking up my university hat and washing it
 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

What a joyful week!

What a joyful week!


I would like to pick some pieces in this week to share with you all. On Tuesday (4 November 2014), Perry, Yuki, Heyman and I conducted boat surveys at Northeastern and Northwestern of Lantau Island. At the very beginning, we got much fun and excited as Mrs. Ng caught a dying Flathead mullet in the nearby pier of Sham Tseng (Ma Wan Pier). Look! Such fish was around a double of the length of my hand. Most pleasantly, Mrs. Ng and her husband could have one more delicious dish for their dinner. Ha…Ha…..


Photos above show how lucky we are today (4 November 2014)

Luck did appear within two days!  We conducted land-based survey at Tai O on Wednesday so as to examine the impacts of dolphin-watching and fishing activities. The advantage of this survey method is to collect information on undisturbed behaviors of Chinese White Dolphins. How happy we were! 

There were 9 groups of dolphins we could observe at this station that day. When an individual dolphin or group of dolphins was located via the theodolite, and focal follow methods were then used to track the dolphins. A focal individual was selected within a group for further tracking its behavior and movement. We also recorded the detailed information about the selected individual or group every 5 minutes including the group size, behavioral state data (i.e.resting, milling, traveling, feeding and socializing) until the dolphins were lost from the view. It is another type of experience to watch such lovely pink dolphins without any disturbances. 

The scenery at Tai O is good and you can enjoy the seafood restaurants and the traditional salted fish, shrimp paste and storefronts at Tai O. I highly recommend all of you to have a relax trip at Tai O with your family and friends at weekends.


   Heyman and I tasted the yummy steamed buns at the end of our survey




Sunday, 2 November 2014

Chinese White Dolphins are touching me

Journal at HKDCS - Chinese White Dolphins are touching me

Hi, everyone. Let you have my brief introduction. My name is Chan Tze Wing (Friends always call me Wingwing).I was born and brought up in a remote village in Yuen Long of the New Territories of the city.  I am a new intern at HKDCS. To be honest, I did not have a complete science background but I enjoy getting intimate with nature. It explains why I got my bachelor degree is “Environmental Policy Studies” at City University of Hong Kong.

This is not an ideal attitude for a policy maker if he / she does not have full experience on conservation. It will look like as a Chinese saying like ‘fight only on paper’. Fortunately, Samuel is providing me a golden opportunity to have practical environmental conservation experience. It does help me put the theory into practice. .

In the following weekly journal, I would like to share my valuable internship experience with you.


Do you observe any features about this following figure?
This picture is taken on 30th October 2014

Look twice. The pink dolphin mother is bringing up her baby until the calf is able to fend itself. When we are the babies, our mothers express their selfless love and care to us onwards. The highest and holiest love does not only exist in humankind, but also in the lovely dolphins. The mother dolphins rise to the water surface to breathe for 20 to 30 seconds and then they will dive into deep water again. A baby dolphin goes up to the water surface twice as much as an adult because calves have smaller lung capacities than adults. Adult dolphins can stay underwater for about 2 to 8 minutes, but a calf cannot stay underwater for more than 4 minutes. What a beautiful picture! The divine role of motherhood is a gift from God. 

Saturday, 30 August 2014

I’ll be back!



Hi everyone, it’s me again~ It has been some time since I updated my last blog. Time flies and I have already completed my internship with HKDCS. I had a really good time with all the full time and interns in the past two month, and of course, with the lovely dolphins!

The past two month is probably my most substantial summer I have ever had. Though it is a little bit demanding physically, I am so glad and want to thank Samuel for giving me this amazing opportunity to join the HKDCS family. I could still recall how excited I was when I saw HKDCS on the list of internship companies provided by my school. I have dreamt of and wanted to work with marine animals so badly as I am really found of them, and here came my chance!

I would never forget what I have done and learnt in the past two months. We had created so many good memories together and I really enjoyed the surveys. Both boat and land based surveys provide me a rough idea of how marine animals related surveys are conducted as the principle behind should be similar. Being involved in part of the survey gives me a chance to find out whether I want to be in part of this industry or not in the future, which I was really confused about. No one knows what will happen in the future but experience I gained this summer would definitely influence my decision to be made.

I definitely will, and already am, missing the lovely staff and interns. I am a very shy person which doesn't like to express much about my feelings. Yet, I am really thankful to have you all (both staff and interns) accompanying me this summer. Really love you all and look forward to seeing you in December!

Love ya <3

Bertha

P.S
I am already missing the dolphins (crycry)

A lovely photo of the four interns ;)

Farewell dinner yumyumyum