“We are al­ways try­ing to solve the con­flicts be­tween hu­mans and an­i­mals.”

HK Magazine - - FIRST PERSON -

The lives of Chi­nese White Dol­phins, Hong Kong’s most iconic crea­ture, are con­stantly un­der threat from pol­lu­tion and in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment around their Lan­tau habi­tat. Dr Sa­muel Hung Ka-yiu, founder and chair­man of the Hong Kong Dol­phin Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety, tells Xavier Ng how he be­came fas­ci­nated by the ma­rine mam­mal and how we can save them. Photo by Kirk Kenny

I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I went to study in the U.S. when I was 16.

Be­fore I went to the U.S., I was quite an in­doorsy per­son. There weren’t that many chances to get in touch with na­ture.

My in­ter­est in ma­rine life came from the doc­u­men­taries I watched when I was a kid.

I used to love this wildlife se­ries on TVB Pearl: I’d ask my dad to record it for me ev­ery week.

The com­pe­ti­tion was fierce in the U.S. for dol­phin re­searchers. It’s a dream job for many ma­rine bi­ol­o­gists and of course, for me as well.

Dol­phins are so charis­matic— ev­ery­one loves them.

That’s why it’s so hard to get into the in­dus­try. We even had to pay to get an in­tern­ship po­si­tion!

I came back to work in Hong Kong in 1997, af­ter get­ting my master’s de­gree.

At the time, the new air­port in Chek Lap Kok was un­der con­struc­tion and the gov­ern­ment had hired an ex­pert from over­seas to do re­search into dol­phins in Hong Kong.

He in­vited me to go and in­tern for him. It was only then that I found out there are dol­phins in Hong Kong.

I’ve been work­ing [in dol­phin re­search] in Hong Kong for al­most 20 years.

Many over­seas aca­demics learned about how vi­brant Hong Kong’s sea is a long time ago, but most Hongkongers only know about the fish they buy in the wet mar­ket. They didn’t even know that there were dol­phins, coral and other ma­rine an­i­mals in Hong Kong’s seas, not un­til the past decade. It’s un­for­tu­nate.

The es­tu­ary area west of Hong Kong is ex­actly where the Chi­nese White Dol­phins are suited to live.

That’s the rea­son for this unique sit­u­a­tion: this very spe­cial type of dol­phins in such prox­im­ity to us ur­ban­ites.

The num­ber of dol­phins in Hong Kong has been drop­ping.

And with more things af­fect­ing their lives, we need to speak up for them.

I founded the Hong Kong Dol­phin Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety in 2003.

One of the most im­por­tant things about dol­phin con­ser­va­tion is rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness.

As an aca­demic, your duty is to do re­search and write papers to be placed on a bookshelf.

But I think Hongkongers should know more about their plight.

We con­ser­va­tion­ists are al­ways try­ing to solve the con­flicts be­tween hu­mans and an­i­mals.

Be­cause of how close we live to the dol­phins, there are con­stant con­flicts. We are look­ing for so­lu­tions for peace­ful co­hab­i­ta­tion with them.

Some­times Hongkongers are still too an­thro­pocen­tric. We only de­cide on things based on what’s good for us hu­mans, but we don’t think about na­ture. The gov­ern­ment wants more eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. There­fore, dol­phins have a very low pri­or­ity.

Peo­ple may think our clients are the gov­ern­ment and oth­ers who pay us, but our ul­ti­mate client is ac­tu­ally dol­phins.

Every­thing we do is to serve their best in­ter­ests.

Sci­ence is in­de­pen­dent, and all we have to do is to tell the truth. We can­not down­play the is­sue—if the num­ber of dol­phins has dropped, the num­ber has dropped.

We’re not say­ing that dol­phin con­ser­va­tion trumps all, but can’t we com­pro­mise and find a mid­dle ground in be­tween?

Peo­ple may ask: what’s the use of con­serv­ing dol­phins? There are prac­ti­cal rea­sons, but there’s also a lot of hid­den value.

They are a sym­bol of Hong Kong, and for a cos­mopoli­tan city to have such unique ma­rine an­i­mals—it’d be a shame if we didn’t look af­ter them.

If more peo­ple care about [the dol­phins], the gov­ern­ment will feel the pres­sure.

Take for ex­am­ple the third run­way pro­ject [at the air­port]: When there are a lot of peo­ple against a de­vel­op­ment, the gov­ern­ment will need to be more care­ful.

Al­though they are still go­ing to build the run­way and we now have to take it to court, at least the gov­ern­ment knows we are not the only ones op­pos­ing the pro­ject.

The aware­ness level is high. Peo­ple now know that not only do dol­phins ex­ist, but we af­fect their lives daily. Even if you ask a ran­dom stranger on the street, they’d know the num­ber of dol­phins is dwin­dling.

But is that enough? They need to be aware that we are ac­tu­ally part of the so­lu­tion.

Do we need to do some­thing dra­matic to help con­serve dol­phins? Not re­ally. Many small ac­tions can change a lot.

For ex­am­ple, vote for the Legco can­di­dates who share the same views as you re­gard­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion is­sues.

Many dol­phins’ lives are af­fected by pol­lu­tion in the sea. So in your ev­ery­day life, even eat­ing more or­ganic veg­eta­bles can help by de­creas­ing the use of pes­ti­cides in farms.

These are small com­pro­mises and per­sonal choices that we can eas­ily make ev­ery day— if you are will­ing to.

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