The Chinese River Dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) is a freshwater dolphin found only in the Yangtze River in China. It is the only member of its genus. Other names for it include Baiji (白鱀 Pinyin: báijì), Beiji, Pai-chi (Wade-Giles), Whitefin Dolphin, Whiteflag Dolphin, Yangtze Dolphin, and Yangtze River Dolphin. It is nicknamed "the Goddess of the Yangtze River" (長江女神) in China.
Fossil records indicate that the dolphins migrated from the Pacific to Yangtze River 20,000 years ago. The dolphins are described during the Han Dynasty in a biological encyclopedia, Erya. It is estimated that there were 5,000 Baijis at that time. In 1978, the Chinese Academy of Sciences established the Freshwater Dolphin Research Centre (淡水海豚研究中心) as a branch of the Wuhan Institute of Hydrobiology.
The chronology of the species' rapid decline
Its current population is difficult to estimate, but it is thought that there are at least thirteen individuals still alive. Needless to say, that is an extremely low number and it is therefore thought to be the world's most endangered cetacean. A captive specimen, a male named Qiqi (淇淇), was located at the Wuhan Institute of Hydrobiology from 1980 to July 14, 2002. Qiqi was discovered by a fisherman in Dongting Lake, and later became the sole resident of Baiji Dolphin Aquarium (白鱀豚水族馆) beside East Lake. There was a later captive, which died after living a year (1996 to 1997) in the Shishou Semi-natural Baiji Dolphin Sanctuary (石首半自然白鱀豚保护区) that had been empty since 1990. A female was found in Chongming Island near Shanghai in 1998, but she did not eat any provided food and starved to death within a month.
The Baiji Dolphin Conservation Foundation of Wuhan (武汉白鱀豚保护基金), the first Chinese aquatic species protection organization, was founded in December 1996. The Foundation has gathered 1,383,924.35 CNY (about 10,034.02 USD) and have spent the financial resources on in vitro cell preservation and maintenance of the Baiji facilities, including the 1998-flooded Shishou Sanctuary.
Three Gorges Dam
The introduction of the Three Gorges Dam has altered the habitat of the Yangtze River Dolphin. It is almost certain that the species will be extinct by the end of the decade, if it is not already.
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13