Chinese white dolphin is likely extinct

The baiji, a white dolphin found only in China’s Yangtze River, appears to have gone extinct. Lipotes vexillifer has been swimming China’s longest river for some 20 million years, but in the end it was no match for China’s surging economy. In the last few decades, the Yangtze’s shallows have been dredged for shipping, many of its fish have been caught or driven away, and noise pollution has increased, perhaps disrupting the sonar of the nearly blind cetacean. In 1986, 400 baiji still swam the river; in 1997, a survey found 13; a 38-day search concluding last week came up empty-handed. An animal must go unseen for 50 years to be formally declared extinct by international scientific bodies, and Chinese scientists will continue searching, but most foreign experts agree with expedition co-leader August Pfluger that the dolphin is “functionally extinct.”*

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*[Correction, 19 Dec 2006: This summary originally stated that the baiji was the first large aquatic mammal to be killed off by human activity. The Steller’s Sea Cow was actually the first.]

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