Was an extinct river dolphin just spotted in China?

Was an extinct river dolphin just spotted in China?
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The management of Face Activities urges the governments and organizations of the world to redouble efforts at conservation of natural habitats in order to protect endangered species, and prevent extinction.

There’s some interesting and potentially exciting news from China (though scientists say not to get carried away.) A group of amateur conservationists spotted a possible Baiji in the Yangtze river. The Baiji was a unique species of river dolphin declared “functionally extinct” by a scientific expedition in 2006. That means, if any individuals still survive, they are likely too few in number for the species to recover.

Though there were only about 13 individuals known to ply the waters of China’s greatest river at the turn of the century, they still numbered in the thousands just 50 years earlier. Sadly the species took a big hit during China’s great famine of the late 1950s, when throngs of starving fishermen caught them for food as they struggled to feed their families. After that frightening time, a combination of hunting, collisions with boats, damn projects, and pollution of the increasingly industrialized river devastated the species over the latter half of the twentieth century.

The Baiji were fascinating creatures. A true species of river dolphin, which is rare, these mammals had adapted well to life in China’s longest river over an incredible 20 million year reign (most species die out after about 3 million years.) They differentiated significantly from other whales and dolphins over this time, developing a distinctive look, featuring a very elongated face, and senses well adjusted to the the river’s extremely murky water, including particularly poor eye sight and exceptionally good hearing and sonar—-even for dolphins. They were known by the Chinese, for thousands of years, as “the goddess of the river.”

The alleged sighting, of a dolphin at a great distance jumping out of the river three distinct times before disappearing completely from view, has raised hopes for many. But experts caution that the observers weren’t trained field biologists, and the report could easily describe another aquatic mammal once common to China’s waterways, the now critically endangered river porpoise. Scientists are concerned that this sudden interest in the Baiji may distract from more pressing matters, stressing that it’s most likely too late to save the river dolphin, but the river porpoise still has a chance. So, conservation efforts and media attention should focus on the living porpoise to prevent its slide into extinction.

The plight of the Baiji, and China’s river dolphin as well, clearly shows what happens when human excesses go unchecked for too long, running rough shod over nature. When unique creatures like the Baiji vanish, there are no replacements, and no way back. They are gone forever, and our world is diminished. They are also harbingers for what’s to come on a grand scale, as humans continue to pollute and degrade our planet’s resources and natural habitats.

Learn China’s functionally extinct Baiji and a possible sighting (Science Alert)



Photo: Natural History Museum / Youtube / Science Alert

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