The mother of the second finless porpoise to be born in captivity in China has died, forcing Chinese scientists to feed the six-week-old baby porpoise by artificial means, the first time humans have fed milk to the endangered freshwater mammal.
"It is a great challenge for us as we have never done this before," said Dr. Wang Kexiong with the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Wang and his colleagues feed the male finless porpoise, whose English name is Tom, every one or two hours with 30 ml of milk, fish pulp and other nutrients in a bottle.
Tom lost his mother, Donna, on July 11, after she died of digestive system failure caused by the birth of Tom. He was born on June 2 at the institute in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, becoming the second finless porpoise born in captive.
Tom was reportedly upset over the death of his mother but now the baby finless porpoise has established a close relationship with his human carers, swimming up to people if they enter his pool, Wang said.
After two months of milk feeding, Tom will become strong enough to eat fish. "We will keep a close eye on him and spare no effort to ensure his nutrition," Wang said
Finless porpoises, like white-flag dolphins (or baiji), are rare mammals endemic to the mainstream of the Yangtze River, China's longest, and its numerous lakes.
International scientists failed to find a single white-flag dolphin during an expedition from November to December last year. Most experts agree the species is "functionally extinct".
Experts estimate that only 1,200 to 1,400 finless porpoise currently inhabit the Yangtze mainstream, Poyang Lake and Dongting Lake.
Busy ship traffic interferes with the sonar dolphins and finless porpoises use to find food. Fishing nets and pollution are other factors that have contributed to the decline of the species.
(Xinhua News Agency July 18, 2007)