First ever footage of Hong Kong’s finless porpoise released: OceansAsia calls for urgent conservation measures

OceansAsia released this report on the current status of the local Indo-Pacific Finless Porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) populations in Hong Kong. The past several years have seen an increase in dead finless porpoises washing up on Hong Kong beaches, with 2019 being the worst year to date (43 strandings). In the report, OceansAsia, a Hong Kong-based marine conservation organization, details the current knowledge about these elusive cetaceans and outlines six key recommendations to ensure that these marine mammals are protected.

The report coincides with the release of the first ever drone footage of the Indo-Pacific finless porpoise. Earlier this month, OceansAsia captured video footage of a pod of finless porpoises gathering in Hong Kong waters. This is a rare occurrence, as these animals seldom gather in large groups, and to our knowledge, this is the first ever video footage of this species in Hong Kong waters.

The report makes six recommendations that OceansAsia feel are needed in order to better understand the resident population and protect this important species:

  • Conduct a comprehensive finless porpoise population survey.
  • Establish a marine park in the southwest coast of Lamma Island.
  • Follow consistent stranding reporting and comprehensive analysis.
  • Adopt consistent regional reporting and analysis.
  • Amend the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance.
  • Increase and improve fisheries observation.

“The last comprehensive study of the population of Hong Kong finless porpoise was carried out in 2002 and estimated the population to be 220 animals. We have no way of knowing whether this number is still reflective of the current population,” says Dr. Teale Phelps Bondaroff, Director of Research for OceansAsia and author of the report. “Without a clear population estimate, we cannot know the impact of recent strandings.”

Last year (2019) was the worst year on record for finless porpoise stranding, with 43 animals being found dead. In 2018, 33 animals were recorded dead, and in 2020 (as of May 16th), there have been 15 strandings. Biologists consider annual mortality rates for porpoise greater than 4-5% to be unsustainable. It is important to note that the Marine Mammal Stranding program counts only animals that are found, which means that the mortality numbers are likely much higher.

“A lack of clearly identified causes of death for stranded porpoise is also frustrating conservation efforts,” explains Phelps Bondaroff. “We are calling for a comprehensive finless porpoise population survey, along with consistent and detailed stranding reporting, and for the establishment of a marine park in the southwest coast of Lamma Island which is key finless porpoise habitat.”

Dr. Lindsay Porter is a prominent marine biologist whose work focuses on Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, finless porpoise and other tropical marine mammals which are impacted by humans and their activities. Dr. Porter and her team in Hong Kong have been conducting an acoustic monitoring program, aimed at determining the density of individuals in Hong Kong. Listening to the distinctive clicking and buzzing sounds of porpoise is one of the best ways to monitor this difficult to see species. Dr. Porter intends to conduct a comprehensive aerial survey of the entire Hong Kong habitat, with a view to being able to estimate the population size of the local finless porpoise with the highest accuracy.

“This elusive marine mammal has fascinated me for years. Their cryptic behavior has frustrated the use of the usual boat-based surveys, however the use of new tools – drones and easily deployed acoustic devices – are revealing more of this charismatic species’ behavior and life history,” explains Dr. Porter. “My worry is that as we slowly learn more of this population’s habits and lifestyle, we will be too late to save them, as the number of dead porpoise is increasing dramatically every year.”

“With the release of this footage of the finless porpoises in Hong Kong, scientists get their first glimpse into the behaviour of this shy animal,” says Gary Stokes, Operations Director for OceansAsia. “As the late Capt. Jacque Yves Cousteau once said, ‘people protect what they love’ and it is our hope that once people see and know about our resident population of finless porpoises, more efforts will be taken to protect them.”

“Alarm bells should be ringing, yet they are not,” says Stokes. “Our aim for this report is to shine the spotlight on this animal before it is too late.”