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Trent Students On Board to Protect Humpback Dolphins in Hong Kong

June 27, 2017

Dr. John Wang’s work in Southeast Asia leads to research opportunities for students at all levels of study

two ships sailing in the water near a mountain.

According to Dr. John Wang of Trent’s Department of Biology and his team of global researchers, the environment and future of HK humpback dolphins are facing critical challenges due to longstanding construction of the Hong Kong International Airport.  

Fortunately for the dolphins, Trent students from undergraduates to Ph.D. candidates are seizing every opportunity to dive into scientific, political, and environmental waters surrounding their uncertain plight.

Foreign field courses through Trent’s Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre (NRDPFC), publishing opportunities, hands-on research, state-of-the-art technology, and passion are their tools of choice.

“No one believes me when I tell them I am conducting research on humpback dolphins in Southeast Asia,” states Shiva Javdan ’13, a Ph.D. candidate in Environmental and Life Sciences (ENLS) who is investigating the dolphins’ decline. “I made a promise to myself ten years ago during Trent’s Taiwan field course that I would continue to help them any way I could.”

M.Sc. Ecology and Conservation student, Katherine Wright ’12 spent two years studying the dolphins including a summer in Hong Kong and Taiwan.  Her work regarding scarring to determine sex in the dolphins will be published this July in Marine Mammal Science and featured on its cover.

“Publishing means my findings have merit,” she stated. “I hope they assist in conservation of the dolphins and will be used by researchers studying similar species.”

Kim Riehl ’09 is a former assistant to Professor Wang and graduate of the Trent School of Environment. She works with Species at Risk with Parks Canada.

 “Trent University is at the forefront in conservation of these dolphins,” she states. “It is fundamental in the race against their extinction. It doesn't get much more scientifically important than that.”

Honours Biology undergraduate, Harry Hitsman ’13 catalogued photographic data of the HK humpback dolphins—a project that ultimately evolved into his fourth-year thesis.

“I’ve learned many things that I will use in my future,” said Mr. Hitsman. “It is also very exciting that my research may contribute to their conservation.”

The work of Trent researchers and students is making headlines around the world. Regarding recent New York Times coverage that referenced Trent’s work in the region he observed, “With the state of many humpback dolphin populations, this project is hugely important. I’m glad it is getting exposure.”

More information about this exciting field course at Trent