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A fight for flipper

Need more space? Hop on a space shuttle! Flipper’s been here longer. Tithiya Sharma is on a year-long journey across the globe to find 100 everyday heroes — and hopefully herself — along the way.

columns Updated: Aug 21, 2010 23:25 IST
Tithiya Sharma
Tithiya Sharma
Hindustan Times

A year ago, I saw a documentary called The Cove. It made me weep. The documentary was an initiative by former dolphin trainer Rick O’Barry, who helped capture and train the ones that were used for the hit American TV series called Flipper.

The people loved the show and the Dolphins even more, eventually leading to a massive rise in the number of dolphins captured and trained in water parks around the world. O’Barry lived with the guilt of fueling the pop-culture fascination with these most-intelligent of mammals. He eventually turned into an ardent activist and defender of ‘dolphin rights’ the world over.

The Cove captured the brutal ‘culling’ of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, where thousands are maimed as part of tradition — some for food, some for exporting to ‘water worlds’ packed with adoring fans eager to watch ‘flipper’ in action. I’ve been a supporter of ‘dolphin rights’ since.

I’m in Hong Kong now, if you’re wondering. It was half a day before the sun hit my face. The skyscraper blocked the sun, the heavy machinery blocked the traffic and the relentless land reclamation has blocked the odds of the unique Pink Dolphin or the Indo-Pacific Hump Back Dolphin’s chance of survival.

There are still some hopeful helping hands. I met activist Janet Walker for a ‘walk-and-talk’ at the Tong Chung Pier to find out more about her organisation — the Hong Kong Dolphin Watch. The organisation gives a helping hand or fin to the dwindling population of uniquely pink dolphins struggling to survive in the murky waters of the Honk Kong bay.

Janet told me: “Some scientists believe that the muddy South China Sea causes loss of pigment in the dolphins, others believe that due to lack of sharks and predators here, the dolphins have slowly evolved to lose their camouflaged skin colour.”

Pink hued they might be, in the pink of health they are not. The relentless urban and industrial development has turned the water into a swill of filth and toxins. Making procreation not just difficult but almost counter-productive.

“Many infants are poisoned by the toxins in their mothers’ milk and die early,” shares Janet. Her organisation operates a guided tour for foreigners, locals and school-children to learn and appreciate their age-old aquatic neighbours.

As we walk around the pier, Janet points out to the area surrounding us and remarks: “Almost all of the land was reclaimed from the sea, shrinking the dolphins’ habitat further. The dolphins have become victims of Hong Kong’s ambition. In Hong Kong bigger is definitely better and the dolphins have no advocates except us. I hope by educating citizens and future leaders, we can influence future decisions regarding what’s in the best interest for the survival of our Pink Dolphins.”

Hong Kong’s port is one of the busiest in the world. Add to that the dolphin-watching tours that have become increasing popular with tourists and you have an ecological disaster waiting to happen. Most tourists come here believing that the best sea life they’re going to see is in their sushi roll, but hopefully leave feeling a sincere appreciation for these gorgeous ‘blushing mammals’.

Dolphin Watch Hong Kong monitors the tours’ boats and establishes best practices for tour operators to adhere to. They will also take you on a guided ferry tour to watch the rapidly dwindling population of dolphins in their ‘own’ habitat. And hopefully remind all on board that you’re in ‘their’ habitat and that rampant human ambition comes at a cost that flipper and his clan pays with their lives.

Need more space? Hop on a space shuttle! Flipper’s been here longer. Tithiya Sharma is on a year-long journey across the globe to find 100 everyday heroes — and hopefully herself — along the way.

First Published: Aug 21, 2010 22:34 IST