A team of 25 scientists from six countries including China and the United States started an expedition on Monday along the Yangtze River for white-flag dolphins that are on the verge of extinction.
The expedition has for mission to determine the population of the dolphins and to assess their habitat's environmental particularities, so as to provide reference for protection and research, said Wang Ding, researcher with the hydrobiology institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province.
The white-flag dolphin, dubbed "panda in water," is the world's rarest dolphin and lives only in China's longest river, the Yangtze, according to Wang.
Over-fishing, dam-building and environmental degradation have caused its population to plummet from about 400 in the 1980s to less than 100 in the mid-1990s.
It is estimated that there are no more than 50 at present, according to estimates by Wang and his colleagues.
People saw the rare dolphin for the last time in April this year. Since then, no sightings have been reported.
August Fluger, chairman of Switzerland Baiji.org Foundation and also the initiator of this expedition, said that there are 13 world-class experts among the 25-member team.
The expedition will go on for 45 days and cover a 3,336 km stretch of the Yangtze River. However, Fluger is not sure whether a white-flag dolphin will be found.
Conservation work on the Yangtze freshwater dolphins started in 1986. The Chinese government has established six nature reserves along the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River.
(Xinhua News Agency November 7, 2006)