(BEIJING) — The Chinese white dolphin, treasured by the people of Hong Kong for its pink color, is in danger of being killed off by pollution and a traffic jam of boats.
The dolphin, once the official mascot of the 1997 sovereignty changing ceremonies, draws tourists from around the world.
But they are rapidly becoming in danger of extinction, with the population decreasing by nearly 60 percent in the last decade. Conservationists warn that action must be taken if people hope to be able to see the dolphin in the coming years.
According to the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, the number of dolphins has decreased from 159 in 2003 to just 61 last year. This figure is expected to be significantly lower when the organization releases its updated report later in June.
Experts attribute this population decrease to five main factors: habitat loss from coastal development, water pollution, underwater noise pollution, vessel collision, and overfishing.
The decline in the number of pink dolphins gained attention earlier this spring.
During a dolphin watching tour — a popular activity for tourists visiting Hong Kong — a group watched as a mother dolphin struggled to lift the body of her dead calf above the water. This scene continued for about 30 minutes. In the end, the dolphin was ultimately unable to revive the calf and was forced to swim away without it.
A spokesperson from Hong Kong Dolphinwatch, Janet Walker, believes that the calf died due to “toxins in the mother’s milk, accumulated from polluted seawater.”
The pink dolphin is currently classified as a “near-threatened” species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN) Red List of Threatened Species, while China places it as a Grade 1 National Key Protected Species, a list that includes the giant panda and golden monkey.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Claire Moran, CNN
James Griffiths and Shen Lu