Chinese scientists began a survey this weekend of the dwindling Yangtze finless porpoise population. Scientists believe that the porpoise it at extreme risk of following its cousin, the Baiji (the more commonly known Yangtze ‘dolphin’) into extinction.
“Our expectation is maybe only 1,000 of them are left, but we have to see how it turns out from the survey,” said Wang Ding, a research professor at the Institute of Hydrobiology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“People have started to think of the finless porpoise as the symbol of the Yangtze River which also indicates the current status of the river,” Wang, who is leading the expedition, told AFP.
The Baiji was declared functionally extinct after a 2006 survey failed to find any evidence of the animal.
The finless porpoise, which has only a small dorsal ridge rather than a fin, has been hurt by human intrusion and environmental degradation, said global conservation organisation WWF, which is supporting the expedition.
Deaths of the creature have been caused by boat strikes and fishing gear accidents as well as degradation of rivers — and dolphin food sources — due to pollution and severe droughts blamed on climate change.
Lei Gang, director of WWF China’s freshwater programme, has called for “immediate action”, including “better laws and enforcement” to prevent another Chinese porpoise species from being driven into extinction.