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Can The Goddess of the Yangtze Survive?: China's Last Minute Attempt to Save the Remainder of the Yangtze River Dolphins

written by: Niki Fears•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 9/22/2009

Can China save the last of the Yangtze River Dolphins? Find out more about this nearly extinct white river dolphin.

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    About the Yangtze

    RiverDolphin The Yangtze River Dolphin, also known as the Baiji, is the rarest marine mammal in the world being declared as “functionally extinct” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) last year. The graceful, and beautiful Baiji, which has been known as the Goddess of the Yangtze, is an ancient species of dolphin and one of the very few that exclusively inhabits fresh water habitats.

    When a 2006 expedition formed with the goal of performing a census of the remaining river dolphins in the Yangtze failed to catalog a single individual the disappointing and disturbing lack of dolphins in their home area resulted in the IUCN's declaration for the critically endangered rating to also include a “functionally extinct” classification. However, a new sighting of this rare dolphin that was documented last month has pushed China to undergo one last ditch effort to protect the last of the Yangtze river dolphins.

    Attempts to Save the Species:

    Working along with the WWF-China, the section of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture responsible for wildlife and aquatic animals established The Yangtze River Dolphin Network on September 24, 2008 in Xingzikou, Jiangxi province as an attempt to create a safe haven for the remaining dolphins.

    The dolphins numbers declined from an estimated 400 individuals in 1979 to less than 100 in the 1990's. This rapid decline was a direct result of habitat loss, fishing, pollution, and other threats by humans and is the first species to face such serious threat with full documentation showing that the decline has been linked directly to human activity and many fear that the impending disappearance of the Yangtze River Dolphin is but the first step in a massive loss of biodiversity if extreme and drastic actions are not taken to correct the current trends and make sure that species endangered by human activities are protected.

    Consequences of Yangtze Extinction

    The loss of the river dolphin threatens to collapse the entire river system, the effects of which we can only begin to understand. Not only are the varieties of aquatic life that inhabit the Yangtze river at threat, but also the human development that depends upon the river will also suffer from this loss, making this new initiative of the utmost importance to officials from China's Ministry of Agriculture. At this point, we can only wait and see if the new Yangtze River Dolphin network will be a success or if it will be a tragic case of too little, too late.