China's Yangtze River Dolphin Declared Extinct

Say good-bye to the baiji, China's long-imperiled freshwater dolphin.

In an unsurprising, yet still sad, development, the Yangtze river dolphin has been declared functionally extinct, according to a study published this week in the journal Biology Letters. The study was written by a team of scientists from China, Japan, Britain and the U.S. who spent six weeks last year looking for the Yangtze river dolphin. Additional searches this year have also proven fruitless.

While the researchers believe a few lone dolphins may still exist in remote sections of the highly industrialized river, a six-week search failed to find a single living specimen. Even if a few baiji survive, they are likely too scattered to ever be able to reproduce and keep the species going.

From the study's abstract:

We are forced to conclude that the baiji is now likely to be extinct, probably due to unsustainable by-catch in local fisheries. This represents the first global extinction of a large vertebrate for over 50 years, only the fourth disappearance of an entire mammal family since AD 1500, and the first cetacean species to be driven to extinction by human activity. Immediate and extreme measures may be necessary to prevent the extinction of other endangered cetaceans, including the sympatric Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides asiaeorientalis).

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