Frequently Asked Questions

Why aren't you a charity?

"Over the years, many people have either assumed we are a charity or asked us why we don't become a charity. My feeling on this is that, while charities play an important role in society and especially in the environmental movement, there is also a role for businesses to play. In fact, I think that in Hong Kong, people will pay more attention to a business that speaks out for conservation than a charity that speaks out for conservation. I want other businesses to speak out for conservation as well, and they are more likely to do that if they are making money from the dolphins. If we operated as a charity, we wouldn't be helping other businesses make money, we'd be asking them to give us money. I'm starting to wonder if teaching people that you don't have to be a charity to do worthwhile things is as important as teaching people about the dolphins." -- Bill Leverett, Founder of Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Limited

How much of this money goes to the dolphins?

We donate money to World Wide Fund for Nature (HK) to support dolphin research project headed by Dr. Lindsay Porter. We also pledge to donate ten percent of our profits to Friends of the Earth (HK), to help with the publication of their excellent Coastal Guide Series, which draws attention to Hong Kong's threatened coastal habitats. We feel that the effect of our work in terms of raising awareness of the dolphins is much more important than any monetary contribution we could make to the various charitable organizations currently soliciting money on behalf of the dolphins.

Are you seeing fewer dolphins than before?

As we don't do systematic survey work, any answer to this question would have little scientific value. We probably see more dolphins than when we first started, because we're more experienced, we go more frequently, and the dolphins are more accustomed to our boats. We're definitely getting better sightings, when the dolphins come very close to the boat, more frequently. On the other hand, we run shorter trips now, so our hit rate of around 97% isn't getting any better.

Why are the dolphins pink?

The best theory we've heard is that they're actually white, but they look pink because they're blushing. All cetaceans are warm-blooded, meaning they regulate their own body temperatures. When they create excess heat from exercise, such as chasing fish, they flush blood to the outer layers of their skin, to get the heat from their body core out beyond the insulating layer of blubber, so that the heat can disperse to the water. This "blushing" makes them look pink.

Does dolphinwatching harm the dolphins?

Adding another diesel-powered boat to the existing traffic certainly doesn't do the dolphins any good. In fact, in some areas, dolphins and whales are threatened by tour operators acting irresponsibly. In Hong Kong, however, the total amount of dolphinwatching traffic created by us is very very small compared to the amount of other boat traffic  ferries, tankers, fishing boats, container ships, lighters, police boats, dredgers, barges, etc.  using the harbour. Boat traffic, in turn, is only one of the threats facing the dolphins, and probably not the most serious one. Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Ltd. follows a code of conduct designed to minimize the disturbance to the dolphins. Against the minimal harm that we do by watching dolphins, you have to balance the small hope that the educational effect of dolphinwatching will eventually lead to the human population of Hong Kong taking steps to protect the dolphins.

How can tourists know if the operators are eco-tours?

We are the first ever company in Hong Kong that operates eco-tours on the water for watching the wild pink dolphins. So far it is the only company of its kind that has been recognised by the Government and the Hong Kong Tourism Board as the real eco-tour operator. 

Majority of the other boats out for the dolphins are profit making, a few others are organised by groups. Some green groups such as WWF-HK also provide boat trips for their members. Only HKDW has its own boat, the others use rented ones and they are very difficult to differentiate or identify. What's more, the green groups trips are not run regularly, and it's mainly for members, hence it's difficult for people who come to Hong Kong to visit for a short period of time to join; even if non-member participation is accepted.

Tourists also have to be careful about some claimed-to-be-green-groups. There is one which was founded only these few years and disguised as a non-profit making organisation. Very recently it has been named and shamed by some local dolphin watchers who were out on their own and were very dismayed by the former's bad behaviour around the dolphins.

In addition, speed boat rides from local villages are to be avoided as they also have no regard for the dolphins', and even the passengers', safety. We have witnessed frequently that these speed boats crowded around to fight for sightings and their behaviours definitely add to the list of threates the dolphins are facing.

Experience is of utmost importance. We have been doing the same business for more than 10 years, the others are conventional operators, taking customers sight-seeing and shopping etc. They started to jump in the bandwagon mainly during 2003 when the SARS outbreak stopped tourists coming to Hong Kong. They usually use much bigger boats than ours, to accommodate as many people as possible. And their guides are not properly trained regarding dolphin watching, nor the code of conduct for it.

Tourists, before coming to Hong Kong or before booking a trip after arriving, can check with the Hong Kong Tourism Board and different operators to find out which one is genuinely 'eco'. They can also call up/emailing different companies and ask about the Code of Conduct for dolphin watching; and if they use their own boat regularly for watching dolphins. Many travel guides also give reliable information on the well reputed operators. We have been recommended by quite a number of them, e.g., Lonely Planet.

Is it possible to watch dolphins on sea kayaks or some other non-motor boats that are more eco-friendly?

The water channel at northern Lantau is very busy with high speed ferries and container ships passing through at a rate of up to 70 vessels an hour, and though it may not look like it, current can be very rough as there is a huge discharge of fresh water from the Pearl River up north. Kayaking in rough current and around speeding big boats obviously isn't a good idea. 

Non-motor boats are difficult to operate with, and those boats are much smaller, usually without a cover and definitely without important facilities such as a decent toilet which is a must as serious dolphin watching tours should allow at least 3 hours on the water.

Professor Chris Parsons

Professor Chris Parsons came to Hong Kong in late 1993 to research on the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins for his postgraduate study at the University of Hong Kong.  After getting a PhD in 97, he returned to the UK to continue research on cetaceans and taking up teaching.  A couple of years ago, he went to America and is presently a professor at the George Mason University.  Commissioned and funded by the Hong Kong Government, the aforementioned research project is the first ever systematic scientific research on the species in the territory as well as the world.  Up till now, the international community has been relying on findings of researches carried out in Hong Kong for data of the species, and Professor Parsons is widely recognised as the expert in this area.  Hong Kong Dolphinwatch is honoured to have Professor Parsons as its scientific consultant, providing expert opinion and advice, and giving great support to the company’s initiatives for promoting dolphin conservation and related issues.