Friday, October 28, 2011

Yangtze River Dolphin
Photo source: National Geographic
How many of us actually even know that there are some animals, some species that used to exist widely at some point of time but are now endangered or lost forever.

The ‘Baiji’ or  the ‘Yangtze River Dolphin’, is one such creature we all don’t know about. Baiji, meaning ‘left behind’ in Chinese, was a freshwater dolphin which  could only be found in the Yangtze River in China. The Yangtze river is the largest river in Asia and the third-largest river in the world. It occupies one-fifth of China’s area and it’s river basin is home to one-third of the Chinese population.

The Baiji’s population declined drastically as China became more industrialised and started using the Yangtze river extensively for fishing, transportation and to produce hydroelectricity. In 2006, a Yangtze Freshwater Dolphin Expedition concluded that the Baiji was not to be found in any part of the river.

The Baiji belongs to the cetacean species, cetacean meaning belonging to the marine mammal family, such as whales or dolphins. Baiji would be the first recorded extinction of a cetacean species that was well-studied . According to the history, the dolphin occurred along 1,700 km from the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river. If the Baiji was in danger, it could swim upto the speed of 60 kmph but it had to usually stay within 10-15 kmph, because of it poor vision and hearing. It relied mainly on its sonar gut for navigation through the river.

There are many causes of decline of the Baiji. As China developed economically, the river dolphin was pressurised significantly as the industrial waste flowed into the Yangtze, and the riverbed started degrading because of the concrete. Also, the ship traffic multiplied and the noise pollution caused the Baiji to collide with propellers as it had hearing problems.

But, in 2007, a Chinese scientist is reported to have spotted a large white animal swimming in the Yangtze in August. The last known living Baiji was ‘Qi-Qi’ which died in the year 2002. So who knows there could still be a Baiji out there, we will just have to wait and see.

Report by Zainab Akbarali


John Martin said...

I have never seen Dolphin of Yangtze River or never heard anything about it.But thanks to your post and the picture of Yangtze River Dolphin.Keep sharing such interesting info....