~ The Yangtze River Dolphin: Baiji ~

Only 80 years after it was first described in scientific articles, the Yangtze River Dolphin, or Baiji, of China is now functionally extinct. Despite more than 10 years of conservation efforts, the Baiji is now thought to be extinct and is the first cetacean extinct in our lifetime.

Baiji's had a stocky body about the same size as a human. It had tiny eyes and a long, narrow beak, like other river dolphins. Close up the Baiji's coloring appeared dark blue-gray on its back fading to grayish white on its stomach. The triangular dorsal fin was set low, and the flippers were broad and somewhat rounded.

The Baiji was most active between early evening and early morning. The species was quiet, reserved, and difficult to approach, making sitings rare. Those who were lucky enough to see a Baiji usually spotted them alone or in groups of up to six where tributaries join the river, especially around shallow sand banks.

In calm conditions the Baiji's blow could be heard as a high-pitched sneeze. Many times Finless dolphins were spotted and mistaken for Baiji, since Finless dolphins are much more numerous on the Yangtze River.

China declared the Baiji a National Treasure and began protection for it in 1975. Parts of the river were also declared a natural reserve but this effort had little success in protecting the Baiji because of continual boat traffic, fishing, and industrial development
(including the construction of the world's largest dam) along what is one of the world's busiest waterways.

The genus name for the Baiji is "Lipotes" which comes from the Greek and means "left behind". This refers to the limited range and may yet prove to be one of the causes of the Baiji's end.


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