Aquatic Mammals Blog

It's all about marine mammals to those who wish to explore all aspects of marine mammal's ecology, behavior and acoustics. When I first started writing Aquatic Mammals Blog, one of the main aims to provide a basic guide of how to identify species and their lifestyle according to my research knowledge and field studies.

Protect the "Ocean Giant Panda" (Chinese White Dolphin)


On May 3rd, 2019, the news that a Chinese white dolphin sighted on the coast near Fenghuojiao, Taishan City, Jiangmen, Guangdong Province, caused widespread public concern. The local police and the staff of the Jiangmen Chinese White Dolphin Provincial Nature Reserve Management Office quickly launched the rescue. They stood guard in the mud for 7 hours under the high temperature of 34°C, and finally successfully helped them return to the sea.


The Chinese White Dolphin, also known as the "Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin," is a national the first-class protected wild animal known as the "Ocean Giant Panda." It is currently believed that there are four species of humpback dolphins in the world, namely, Atlantic humpback dolphins, Indian humpback dolphins, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, and Australian humpback dolphins. They are widely distributed in the coastal waters of the East Atlantic, Indian Ocean, and Western Pacific. The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin was first discovered in the waters of the Pearl River Estuary in China due to its unique body-color changes and type specimens, hence the name "Chinese White Dolphin." The Chinese white dolphins are distributed discontinuously in the shallow waters from the East Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and other Southeast Asian coasts to the Yangtze River's estuary in China mainland. Due to a lack of research, the exact population size of this species in the entire distribution area is still a mystery. Preliminary estimates suggest that the population may be about 13,000 and it is roughly 4,000 to 6,000 in Chinese waters.

                        Chinese White Dolphin Mother and Baby Photo by Lin Wenzhi/Guangming Picture

For a long time, there is no distribution data of Chinese white dolphins, and researchers in China and abroad have generally believed that Chinese white dolphins are mainly distributed in the coastal waters of Taiwan’s west coast, Xiamen, Pearl River Estuary, Leizhou Bay, and Beibu Gulf. From October to December 2014, the author’s research team conducted a 13-day marine survey in the southwestern waters of Hainan Island. During this period, Chinese white dolphins were observed for six days. The group size is generally 10 to 40. Etc., Including juveniles and other individuals of different ages. This discovery pushed the previously known geographic distribution of this species in China by nearly 300 kilometers southward.

As a flagship species of coastal and shallow waters, the Chinese white dolphin has irreplaceable biological and ecological value. Chinese white dolphins are globally assessed as vulnerable species in the World Conservation Union Red List of Endangered Species (IUCN) and have not reached the endangered level. If individual populations are assessed individually for their endangered levels, most populations may be already endangered or even critically endangered. Since this species is mostly dispersed within its range, there is geographic isolation between populations, and there may be subspecies or even species differentiation.

Risks and  threats

In recent years, due to the continuous enhancement of human development and utilization activities and the increasing global climate change, biodiversity and its habitats in the South China Sea have been destroyed and degraded to varying degrees, making the oceans including Chinese white dolphins breastfeed in China’s seas. Animals are in a precarious situation. From the perspective of influencing factors, they are threatened by many aspects such as accidental fishery catch, ship collision, habitat degradation, environmental pollution, food shortage, etc., and most of them face the risk of extinction. For example, with the development of coastal cities, a large number of coastal development projects, including land reclamation, sand mining, and marine resource mining have been continuously launched, and the coastal ecological environment has been destroyed, seriously threatening the survival of Chinese white dolphins and other humpback dolphins. Studies have shown that in the past 10 to 20 years, many Chinese white dolphin populations in China coastal waters have experienced substantial population declines, and individual populations have declined by nearly 50%.

 Conservation and future prospectives

Considering the lack of understanding of the distribution of Chinese white dolphins and other humpback dolphins in West Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and other countries and regions, scientific research is almost lack, and protection measures are seriously insufficient or absent. Therefore, the international community urgently needs to work together and adopt scientific and practical measures to prevent the extinction of these rare species. Scientists and eco-environmental protection workers should carry out comprehensive research and scientific evaluation of different humpback dolphin species, subspecies, and individual population assessment as soon as possible. Government decision-making and management departments should take necessary actions to Understand the endangerment levels and risk factors of each independent population. They should also restrict or reduce human activities such as fisheries in the habitats of Chinese white dolphins in order to protect the fishery resources and biodiversity of their habitats. What needs to be emphasized is that for China’s newly discovered Chinese white dolphin populations in the South China Sea and other regions, scientific research should be strengthened. On this basis, transparent and reasonable protection and action plan should be formulated as soon as possible, including the planning and implementing of the Chinese white dolphin nature reserve or ocean national parks, reduction of human activities in related sea areas, etc., effectively strengthen the protection of the ecological environment and biodiversity in the northern part of the South China Sea.

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