OPCFHK Nature's Touch
Know Your Sharks, Love Them and Protect Them
Start with International Whale Shark Day, August 30
 The importance of sharks? 
As apex predators, sharks play an important role in the ecosystem and also serve as an indicator for ocean health. Sharks help regulate abundances of species by removing the weak and the sick. Sharks also help maintain the balance with competitors to ensure species diversity. The role of sharks in the food chain also indirectly affects commercial fisheries and our economy. The dramatic decline of sharks caused an increase in cownose rays, which led to a decline in scallops (prey of rays) and subsequently the closure of the bay scallop fishery in North Carolina.

 Whale shark, the gentle giant 
One of the most charismatic and well-known shark species, whale shark feeds on plankton despite being the largest fish on Earth. Whale sharks travel long distances and can be found in tropical and warm temperate waters. Threatened by target fisheries, bycatch in nets and vessel strikes, whale sharks are now listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, uplisted from “Vulnerable” in 2016. Whale sharks are moving one step closer to extinction and it is hoped that the uplisting can facilitate the implementation of protection measures at national levels.

Researchers can identify different individuals based on the spots and stripes behind the left pectoral fin as the patterns are unique. As a citizen, you too can assist with whale shark research, by submitting photos and sighting data. The Wildbook for Whale Sharks photo-identification library is a visual database of whale shark encounters and of individually catalogued whale sharks. The library is maintained and used by marine biologists to collect and analyse whale shark sighting data, e.g. distribution and population. The information you submit will be used in mark-recapture studies to contribute to the global conservation of this threatened species.

Whale sharks are not commonly found in Hong Kong, but sightings have been recorded in the months of June to July in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2015. If you are lucky enough to see one, please observe it at a distance and follow the no touching and feeding regulation. If you are planning to participate in whale shark interaction programmes overseas, do pay attention to the operational impacts on the well-being of whale sharks and the local community and opt for good ecotourism operators that comply with whale shark interaction regulations.

 Response for stranding of sharks and rays in Hong Kong 
Building on the 10-year collaboration on handling marine mammal stranding cases in Hong Kong waters, OPCFHK and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) have expanded the stranding response programme to collaborate, investigate and respond to strandings of selected threatened species of sharks and rays in Hong Kong waters in June 2016. The species are selected based on their IUCN Red List status and includes shark species which are classified as “Vulnerable”, “Endangered” or “Critically Endangered”.

Pacific spadenose shark – Hong Kong’s resident shark
On June 23, 2016, a shark stranding case that occurred at Butterfly Beach, Tuen Mun was brought to AFCD, and then OPCFHK for investigation. The individual is a Pacific spadenose shark (Scoliodon macrorhynchos), one of the resident shark species in Hong Kong waters. The carcass was sent to Ocean Park for a necropsy by the Stranding Response Team for further examination. Measuring 61cm and weighing only 0.82 kg, the adult female shark has no external wounds but the body was moderately decomposed (code 3). The cause of death cannot be determined.

Pacific spadenose shark usually occurs in shallow, inshore tropical waters and is abundant near large fresh-water outflows (e.g. Pearl River Estuary). The species grows to a maximum length of about 70 cm and reaches sexual maturity at around 50 cm for both sexes. Pacific spadenose shark is not evaluated on the IUCN red list and is harmless to humans.

Most shark species found in Hong Kong do not pose threats to humans unless provoked. Please call the 1823 hotline to inform AFCD if sharks are sighted. If you encounter a shark during recreation, you are advised to stay calm and slowly swim away from the shark. Report the incident to AFCD and lifeguards on duty if you are at gazetted public beaches. Please bear in mind that you are safe if you swim within the shark net area, and in most occasions, sharks would not attack if they are not provoked.

Shortfin mako shark - first official record in Hong Kong 
On February 4, 2017, OPCFHK responded to a code 4 shark stranding case on a beach in Mui Wo. The female shark measured 2.45 metres but due to severe decomposition, especially the fins, the species cannot be identified on-site. Subsequent DNA analysis confirmed that it is a shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus), making it the first official record in Hong Kong. Shortfin mako is warm blooded and hence adaptable in both tropical and temperate waters. A female shortfin mako shark, tagged in New Zealand waters, travelled 8,265 miles in over six months, averaging 37 miles per day. Data indicated maximum speeds of 62 miles per hour in short bursts, likely when hunting fast-swimming prey.

Shortfin mako is an important target species for fisheries and recreational game fishing, and is often found caught as bycatch in tuna and billfish longline and driftnet fisheries, particularly in high-seas fisheries, making them vulnerable to extinction. For this particular shark found in Hong Kong, there was no evidence of propeller cuts or entanglement in fishing gear. Due to severe decomposition of the carcass, we were unable to determine the cause of death.

A shortfin mako shark recorded in a fish market in Hainan Island, China in 2008
 Help shark, help the ocean and help spread 
Shark conservation is not as complicated as it may sound. Stop consuming shark fin, shark oil pills and other by-products from now on. Tell your friends and families why you do it and convince them to do the same.
Secondary School Programmes Open for Application
 Juvenile Horseshoe Crab Rearing Programme 
Horseshoe crab has been our focal species to protect in Hong Kong. It’s been around for more than 475 million years but they are now at risk due to habitat loss caused by urbanisation and pollution, human exploitation for food and its blood (used in medicine), and fishing net entanglement. The population in Hong Kong has dropped by 90% in 10 years.
Programme Details
  1. Rearing of juvenile horseshoe crabs – gain first-hand experience from rearing a living fossil
  2. Promotional campaign – help further raise awareness in schools and the community
  3. Mudflat eco-tour – learn more about the natural habitat at Tai Tam Tuk (Hong Kong Island) or Ha Pak Nai (Yuen Long)
  4. Conservation seminar – learn more about wildlife conservation 
  5. Wild release – clean up mudflat and releasing the reared horseshoe crabs in their natural habitat
We couldn’t save the species alone. We are recruiting 30 secondary schools to join the rearing programme from October 2017 to August 2018. Interested students, please talk to your biology teachers or principals and remind them to submit the application form by email to on or before September 30, 2017!

For details, please visit our official website and Facebook page.
 No Straw Campaign – Coastal Protection Ambassador Programme 
We know that marine debris is bad for the environment, harms wildlife, and threatens human health, but we don’t know how much debris we have in the environment, how long it actually takes to break down in the water or how harmful it is. Plastic straws together with stirrers are one of the top ten contributors to marine debris. It takes only 10 minutes to drink with a plastic straw, but 400-500 years for one to be broken down. Our “No Straw Campaign” invites people from all walks of life to help create a “No Straw” trend.
As part of the “No Straw Campaign”, the Coastal Protection Ambassador Programme (CPAP) aims to raise students’ awareness of marine debris and the importance of coastal protection. We will conduct school talks to secondary schools, and are recruiting at most 25 ambassadors to join the programme.

Programme Details
  1. School talk – introducing coastal biodiversity of Hong Kong, conservation status of coastal animals, marine debris and the ambassador programme
  2. CPAP 2-day workshop – training will be provided to enhance skills on presentation and proposal writing, followed by a guided eco-tour and coastal cleanup
  3. Coastal Protection Awareness Campaign (proposal) – proposal submission and presentation
  4. Coastal Protection Awareness Campaign (implementation with OPCFHK’s funding) – help spread awareness of Hong Kong’s coastal ecology and protection to the public
  5. Booth at Run For Survival (optional) – host a booth to spread awareness for coastal protection 
A small change in habit will make a big difference! If you want to join us, talk to your biology teachers or principals and remind them to submit the application form (ready by September 1) via email to on or before October 31, 2017.
More Updates
 On Horseshoe Crabs 
We concluded our 2016/17 Juvenile Horseshoe Crab Rearing Programme with three rounds of wild release in July and August. Though it was a bit hard to say goodbye, the students hoped that the juveniles could thrive in the wild. We are grateful to the teachers and students, as well as City University of Hong Kong’s technical support. We couldn’t sow this horseshoe crab conservation seed alone.
Summer is the time for our juvenile horseshoe crab population survey. We have to compete with time and tide to look for the tiny babies on mudflat. We were excited to find both mangrove horseshoe crab (top) and Chinese horseshoe crab (below) at the same site on our first survey day.

These babies stay in mudflat for about 10 years before moving to the ocean. Are you joining us to help them, by cleaning mudflat and not destroying the delicate ecosystem there?
 On OPCFHK Hong Kong Island Region Flag Day 

August 5 was a day full of blessings and actions towards local conservation efforts. Thank you, our fellow volunteers, donors and supporters, for joining us on this big day. We would like to extend our gratitude to companies that have recruited teams of volunteers to help, echoed our donation appeal and passed around the flag bag in the office to generate more donations.

Your love, sweats and cheers have helped us raise over $822,000 to fund our local projects, including scientific projects on local species, community education programme, as well as the marine mammal stranding response and community education efforts. We couldn’t do it without you, hat off to everyone who helped!

We have created a photo album on Facebook, please share it with your friends and engage them in our call for action to take disposable plastics out on a daily basis!
Every Dollar Counts

Every staff in OPCFHK strives to spread conservation message to wide audience and speak up for our animal friends who cannot speak up for themselves. Check out our website for the past issues.

We need your help to sustain our efforts to conserve wildlife. Join us as our member of the Friends of the Foundation (download application form) to help us fund more conservation projects and save more species. Together we make a difference!
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Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong
Ocean Park, Aberdeen, Hong Kong