China's rapid industrialisation has likely made extinct a
species of fresh water dolphin that had been on Earth for over 20
million years, Chinese and British biologists said Wednesday.
A baiji dolphin (File
Scientists from China, Japan, Britain and the United States
failed to find the white dolphin, known as the baiji, during a
six-week search of its natural habitat in the Yangtze river last
"This result means the baiji is likely extinct," Wang Ding,
co-author of the survey and one of the world's leading experts on
the species, said.
The dolphin was a victim of devastating pollution, illegal
fishing and heavy cargo traffic on the Yangtze, Wang said.
The findings mean the baiji is likely the first mammal to become
extinct in more than 50 years. It is the cousin of the bottlenose
dolphin, which is also on the critically endangered list.
Wang, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, emphasised that not
all hope was lost for the dolphin, which had made its home along
the lower reaches of China's now heavily polluted Yangtze River for
more than 20 million years.
"We are not saying the baiji is already gone," he said.
But he lamented that further searches this year had failed to
find any sign of the dolphin.
Wang said that a letter written by the survey team had been
published in the latest issue of the Royal Society Biology Letters
journal in Britain to confirm the dolphin was believed to be
The baiji, identifiable by its long, teeth-filled snout and low
dorsal fin, was last officially sighted more than two years
The last confirmed count by a research team was conducted in
1997, when just 13 were recorded.
Up to 5,000 baiji were believed to have lived in the Yangtze
less than a century ago, according to the baiji.org website, which
was established by a range of international conservation
"The decline in the baiji population has been caused by extreme
human pressure on its freshwater habitat," the website said,
blaming illegal fishing and massive discharges of industrial and
agricultural waste into the river.
Other rare species that live in the Yangtze, such as the Chinese
sturgeon and the finless porpoise, are also in danger of
The British-based zoologist who also worked on the six-week
search meanwhile said the loss of the Yangste dolphin was a huge
"The loss of such a unique and charismatic species is a shocking
tragedy," said co-author Sam Turvey of the Zoological Society of
"The Yangtze River dolphin was a remarkable mammal that
separated from all other species over 20 million years ago."
International environmental group WWF has warned that river
dolphins are key indicators of a river's health and of the
availability of clean water for people living on its banks.
"River dolphins are the watchdogs of the water," said Jamie
Pittock, head of WWF's Global Freshwater Programme in a recent
alert over their fate.
"The high levels of toxic pollutants accumulating in their
bodies are a stark warning of poor water quality. This is a problem
for both dolphins and the people dependent on these rivers," he
Turvey added: "This extinction represents the disappearance of a
complete branch of the evolutionary tree of life and emphasises
that we have yet to take full responsibility in our role as
guardians of the planet."
(China Daily via Agencies August 9, 2007)