Scientists have today declared the Yangtze river dolphin extinct after an intensive survey failed to find evidence of a single animal in the waterway.
Pollution, shipping, and over-fishing have all been fingered as culprits. The dolphin's demise marks the first large vertebrate species obliterated by human activity for 50 years and the first ever cetacean (whales, dolphins, and porpoises).
Over six weeks last year, an international team scoured the Yangtze for dolphins using sensitive underwater microphones, hoping to set the baseline for a conservation effort. They drew a complete blank, however, announcing the dolphin was "functionally extinct" at the time. The team have now confirmed the finding and published results of the Chinese government-authorised investigation in the Journal of the Royal Society Biology Letters.
The up-to-eight foot freshwater dolphin, known as the baiji locally, has been on the critical list for several years. A 1999 study suggested there were only 13 individuals remaining. The last confirmed wild sighting was in 2002, the same year as the last baiji in captivity died.
Zoological Society of London conservationist Dr Sam Turvey cautioned that China's rapid industrialisation presents a special threat. He said: "The baiji's extinction highlights the need for new conservation initiatives in China's increasingly threatened Yangtze ecosystem, which is also home to endangered freshwater porpoises, seven-metre long fish, giant salamanders, and white Siberian cranes."
It's estimated that 10 per cent of the world's population live on the banks of the Yangtze. ®