[By Kimberly Riskas]
Finless porpoises are washing up dead or becoming stranded on Hong Kong’s shorelines in increasing numbers. The reasons behind the rise in mortalities are puzzling conservation groups.
According to a new report, more than 40 of the small cetaceans were reported dead in 2019, making it the worst year for porpoise strandings on record. The annual average of stranded porpoises has increased over time, from 11 animals per year in the late 1990s to 24 per year in the past decade. Since 2006, a total of 318 stranded porpoises have been reported on the Hong Kong coast.
It is unlikely that the population can sustain such high levels of mortality, says Teale Phelps Bondaroff, director of research for Oceans Asia, a non-profit based in Hong Kong.
“The last population survey in 2002 identified 220 porpoises. We’ve had more than that many die since then,” says Phelps Bondaroff, author of the new report. “The fact that we have a high percentage of the population potentially being killed each year is alarming.”
Finless porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides) – which inhabit coastal waters from the Persian Gulf to central China – are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). The population is believed to be decreasing due to an array of human threats, including vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing gear and pollution.
The reason behind the recent spike in strandings, however, is difficult to pin down. A local charitable trust, OPCFHK (Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong), has been investigating porpoise strandings since 2006. Freshly killed animals can show clear signs of trauma when they have been hit by boats or tangled in fishing gear; but many are badly decomposed, or even found without a head.
As a result, “we have only been able to confirm the cause of death in around 10% of cases,” says Loretta Kwok, spokeswoman for OPCFHK.
The level of detail of porpoise post mortems, or “necropsies”, is not always consistent, according to the new report. “If we don’t know what’s causing the deaths, then we can’t try to mitigate that threat,” explains Phelps Bondaroff. “We want to encourage OPCFHK to conduct detailed necropsies of every porpoise they find and make the data public to allow better understanding of threats across the region.”
Reported deaths may only tell part of the story. Porpoises are especially at risk of drowning in fishing nets, but the official entanglement tally in Hong Kong’s extensive inshore fisheries is unusually low. The current wording of the Wild Animal Protection Ordinance requires fishers to prove they caught the porpoise by accident – a difficult standard to meet, which may deter them from reporting entanglements.
Amending the law could help incentivise fishers to report accidental porpoise mortalities. Unlike onboard observer programmes, which can be costly and dangerous, fitting boats with CCTV cameras could record entanglements with minimal disruption.
The report also recommends conducting a detailed population survey and creating a protected area around the key porpoise habitat at Lamma Island, Hong Kong’s third-largest island.
Construction projects, vessel strikes, and pollution could be contributing to porpoise mortality, says Phelps Bondaroff, but the lack of data is a big concern.
“We as humans have a really worrisome history of threatening porpoises and small cetaceans,” says Phelps Bondaroff. Mexico’s vanishing vaquita, the Yangtze finless porpoise, the extinct baiji dolphin, and the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, which is also found in in Hong Kong waters, are all victims of the same types of threats facing the finless porpoise.
Should mortality continue at unsustainable levels, “the disappearance of the finless porpoise in Hong Kong may upset the local marine ecosystem” by driving changes in nutrient cycling and plankton productivity, says Kwok.
A finless porpoise stranding “is the canary in the coal mine,” adds Putu Liza Mustika, a cetacean scientist at James Cook University in Australia who founded Whale Stranding Indonesia, an online database for reporting stranded whales, dolphins and dugongs. “It should be seen as a sign that there is something wrong with the way we manage our oceans.”
Kimberly Riskas is a marine scientist and freelance writer covering biodiversity, conservation and the environment. She is based in Melbourne, Australia.
This article appears courtesy of China Dialogue Ocean and may be found in its original form here.
Go to Source
A massive fire broke out at the Port of Beirut on Thursday, incinerating a warehouse full of tires and oil within the port’s free zone. The same area was heavily damaged in the ammonium nitrate explosion that leveled the central port area and the adjacent waterfront on August 4. According to Lebanon’s civil defense agency, […]
Over the course of the past five days, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority arranged a medical intervention for an injured aboard a freighter in the Indian Ocean. On Saturday evening, the Spliethoff tweendecker Dolfijngracht called for assistance while under way about 1,000 nauical miles off the coast of Western Australia. A crewmember had sustained serious […]
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about an accident that occurred on April 15, 2019, involving the towing vessel DeJeanne Maria which struck the end of a submerged dredge pipeline while pushing two spud barges to the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred on the Mississippi River in Pass […]
Best known as a leading passenger airport serving Germany’s most populated federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf has become transformed into a vital distribution point, during the COVID 19 pandemic, for medical equipment and other life-saving goods, mostly from China. Gerton Hulsman, managing director of cargo operations, reports that the handling teams are working hard to […]
DSV Belgium has solid experience in the transport of pharmaceutical products for different customers. With a pharma hub based at Brussels Airport a lot of experience and know-how has been built up over the years. Last weekend, the forwarder handled one hundred million mouth masks, an important milestone for its Belgian organisation that has put […]
The UK government’s new post-Brexit tariff regime will result in both winners and losers. The new regime is set to replace the European Union’s Common External Tariff from the end of the Brexit Transition Period on December 31, 2020. The UK’s commitment to the ongoing Brexit process and ending the UK’s transition from EU membership […]
With close to 100 daily cargo flights operated to a destination network spanning more than 65 cities across six continents, Emirates SkyCargo is delivering essential supplies and commodities to people around the world. The air cargo carrier is currently operating 11 Boeing 777 freighter aircraft, each with a capacity to transport about 100 tonnes of […]
Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its weekly scheduled cargo flight operations to cover 75 destinations across six continents. Through its wider reach, Emirates SkyCargo is able to transport essential commodities and other urgently needed cargo more rapidly across the world, allowing exporters and importers across markets to benefit from direct access to widebody cargo capacity. Some […]
Global commercial aviation charter company Albion Aviation Group is reporting that it is seeing a considerable uptake in its professional cargo broker training courses from the current global pandemic crisis and surge in charter demand. “We have completed a number webinar courses for a whole of host of companies, looking to manage their own cargo […]
Operators can continue to use pilots and other crew members who have unable to comply with certain training, recent experience, testing, and checking requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak in support of essential operations. Additionally, this Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) provides regulatory relief to certain persons and pilot schools unable to meet duration and […]
The U-Freight Group (UFL), with its considerable involvement in eCommerce logistics, says that the latest statistics showing that global e-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion in 2018 are a further vindication of its decision to enter this sector of the international freight market several years ago. The latest available estimates, up 8% from 2017, were recently […]
Astral Aviation has increased its intra-African network with cargo freighters during the pandemic. While there has been a reduction in capacity to, from, and within Africa, which has been caused by a stoppage of passenger flights and limited frequencies on freighter aircraft, Astral Aviation continues to operate cargo freighters from its Nairobi hub to 13 destinations […]
Callan Marine is serving as the prime contractor to the Texas Department of Transportation for a maintenance dredging project located at the Bolivar Ferry Terminal, in Galveston, Texas. Work began in May and is estimated to be complete in late July 2020. The project consists of the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of material and […]
Network Airline Management and TAAG Angola Airlines are pleased to announce the renewal of their long-term freighter aircraft contract by an additional 12 months, sealing an ongoing partnership for the foreseeable future. Operating a regular weekly scheduled service from Liege, Belgium, to the capital of Angola, Luanda, Network Airline Management provides a Boeing 747-400F aircraft […]
Qatar Airways Cargo transported 56 SkyCell containers with vaccines from one of the largest vaccine manufacturers worldwide on its scheduled freighter and belly-hold cargo flights for its customer, CEVA Logistics. The 54-tonne shipment consisting of pneumococcal and varicella vaccines were flown from Brussels to Mumbai via the carrier’s hub in Doha on two separate flights. […]
NOAA Fisheries announced Friday that it will cancel five out of its six large-scale research surveys in Alaskan waters this year due to COVID-19. The canceled surveys include the Aleutian Islands bottom trawl survey, the eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the northern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the Bering Sea pollock acoustics survey, and […]