Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Baiji and jiangzhu

The Wall Street Journal today had an article on an expedition to find any remaining Baiji (Yangtze river dolphin). The results were, as you would expect, negative. It looks like the earth has lost its first big aquatic mammal in 300 years. The expedition did find about 300 Jiangzhu (Yangtze finless porpoises). The Yangtze finless porpoise is a subspecies of finless porpoise, which are found throughout the coastal waters of Asia. Here are some clips from the WSJ article.
HUBEI PROVINCE, China The Swiss heir to a trucking fortune and a team of scientists want to save the Yangtze River's white dolphins. But nobody is sure there are any left.

Last month, August Pfluger led a team of Chinese, Japanese, Swiss and American scientists in search of the *baiji,* a shy, nearly blind freshwater mammal known for centuries in Chinese legend as the Goddess of the Yangtze.

In the early 1990s, scientists estimated that there were about 200 *baiji* left, dodging the freighters and fishing boats clogging the river. By 1997, at the time of the last reliable sighting, scientists estimated that, at most, only about 17 of the 6-foot-long dolphins remained.

If this dolphin is now deemed to be extinct, scientists say it would be one of the few large aquatic mammals to be wiped out in 300 years. In the 1950s, the Caribbean monk seal was hunted to extinction. Other species have been pushed to the brink but have crawled back. By most reckonings, China's *baiji* has been pushed too far.
Here is the page for the expedition's organizers. The image above is of qi qi, the only baiji to thrive in captivity. Here is more on him from Cetacean Society International. Here's another photo where you can see two of its interesting adaptations: the weird pointy jaw and the fact that it is almost completely blind.

And here is the not dead yet Yangtze river finless porpoise

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