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State Acts to Save Dolphins From Extinction

Dozens of endangered aquatic mammal species, including China’s native white-flag dolphin, stand to benefit from a much needed increase in protection, officials and researchers announced Tuesday.

Threatened by deteriorating water quality and harsh living conditions, roughly 40 kinds of dolphins and whales which live in Chinese waters are hovering near extinction, researchers said at the Workshop on Conservation of Cetaceans in Chinese Waters, which began in Shanghai Tuesday and will last until Friday.

Available data indicate that the number of white-flag dolphins, also known as Chinese river dolphins, has dwindled to less than 100. Already considered the world’s rarest dolphin species, experts predict they will die out in 20 years if drastic measures are not taken to protect them.

The population of finless porpoises living in the Yangtze River has also dropped to between 1,000 and 2,000 in recent years. Experts at the conference warned they might soon face the same dire future as white-flag dolphins.

Still another species flirting with disappearance is the Chinese white dolphin, of which there are currently less than 1,000.

China began taking measures to protect its marine and river mammals more than 10 years ago. Scientists claim these measures have helped but said protection work has been hindered by funding problems and backwards research.

Fortunately, an increasing number of people have begun to realize the pressing nature of the situation and are making greater efforts to protect China’s cetaceans.

Speaking at the workshop, Vice-Minister Liu Jian of agriculture said the central government plans to adopt more effective wildlife preservation measures and increase investment in protecting dolphins.

More specifically, Liu said the government has decided to spend 19 million yuan (US$2.3 million) in setting up five natural reserves and one semi-natural reserve aquatic mammals along the Yangtze River.

Researchers in inspection stations will monitor the populations of while-flag dolphins and finless porpoises inside these reserves, he explained.

Chinese white dolphins will also receive help. It was revealed at the workshop that Chinese White Dolphin Protection Fund will manage a government investment of 95 million yuan (US$11.46 million), to be used in the construction of natural reserves, research centers and aid posts in south China.

Experts hope the launch of protection programs will also raise public awareness of the need for wildlife preservation and cultivation of a balanced ecosystem.

(China Daily 03/28/2001)

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