There is no doubt that we humans, overall, took a while to get used to the idea of a lockdown; some would admit that there was quite a bit of complaining, sulking, kicking and screaming involved before easing into the life of staying off the roads and getting used to spending a lot more time indoors. But on the other hand, several other species have thoroughly enjoyed the lockdown and revelled in the outdoors as humans remain confined to their homes.
After the lockdown was enforced, scientists noticed that the rare pink dolphins are returning in Hong Kong after being able to quickly adjust to the new quietness in the sea. A remarkable 30 percent increase in the sightings of these Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins was observed since the month of March, according to Independent.
This is a welcome effect of the lockdown, considering how researchers have been raising alarm ever since the population of these dolphins has been rapidly declining.
As it turns out, the pink dolphins, also known as Chinese white dolphins, needed more space to breathe than other dolphins. And thanks to the lockdown, they had plenty of it. Since March, the numerous boats and ferries that swarm the waterways around Hong Kong have all been suspended. It has kept the waters free of traffic, allowing the beloved pink dolphins to make full use of the space and the better-suited environment.
Within no time, researchers were able to see a difference and Dr Lindsay Porter, a senior research scientist with the University of St Andrews, told The Guardian that she noticed an increase in their numbers “literally the week after the ferries stopped travelling between Hong Kong and Macau.
“I’ve been studying these dolphins since 1993 and I’ve never seen anything like this dramatic change before, and the only thing that changed is 200 ferries stopped travelling before,” Dr Porter said. The lack of human activity has clearly resulted in this creatures thriving in their natural habitat.
Dr. Porter and her team were also able to make use of the ferry-free waters and they took out a yacht to study how these rare creatures and taking full advantage of the situation.
“From visual observations the dolphins are spending much more time socialising, splashing around on the surface, quite a bit of foreplay, quite a bit of sex,” the marine scientist added. “Hong Kong dolphins normally live on the edges, they’re stressed, they spend their time eating and resting. So to see them playing… to see them having a good time, that was really great to see.”
These dolphins, which are native to the Pearl River estuary, are about 2,500 in number. And due to the waters usually busy with boats and ferries, the dolphins avoid the waters between Hong Kong and Macau. Now that the water traffic has stopped, Dr. Porter has been able to study the creatures better by using drones and other means. The team can also study how the dolphins respond to underwater noise through the voice recordings, giving the researchers a great opportunity to study the creatures while the area is still quiet.
One of the things they found most interesting was how quickly they adapted to the new changes, leading to Dr. Porter being able to see something she has not seen in years.
“What we have noticed since the ferries have stopped in this area is dolphins we hadn’t seen for four, five, six years are back in the Hong Kong habitat, so it seems very quickly that the dolphins have come back into this waterway,” she said, according to Independent.
“Normally this entire area would be full of fast ferries taking people from Hong Kong to Macau and back again. Since the Covid pandemic started in Macau and a lot of areas have had restricted travel, the fast ferries have stopped. And these waters have become very, very quiet.”
The comeback of the dolphins show how they can bounce back after certain stressors are taken out of their environment, according to Reuters. And although there is no certainty about whether the decline in this population of pink dolphin can be reversed, Dr. Porter added that the research could certainly be helpful in saving other dolphin populations from suffering the same fate.