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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Say Goodbye to the Baiji Dolphin

The Baiji Yangtze Dolphin (Lipotes vexilifier) has gone extinct after 20 million years of crusing the Yangtze river in China. No chance to say goodbye to this one. In fact, this is the first cetacean to go extinct in modern times (picture below):

In the 1950's it was estimated there were 6,000 Baiji along the 3,500 km length of the Yangtze River. By the 1980’s numbers were estimated at about 400. In 1997, a population survey counted only 13 animals. The last confirmed sighting of a Baiji was in 2004.

The habitat of the dolphin has been affected by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. Heavy ship traffic that confused their sonar abilities, overfishing, and high levels of industrial pollutants dumped into the river is also thought to have affected the species survival.

The Baiji dolphin was colloquially known as the "Goddess of the Yangtze” and was regarded as a symbol of peace and prosperity. A prosperity of industrial development that has led to the species extinction.

Ironically, the Shanghai stock market hit the highest point in history exactly on the same day when the Baiji was announced extinct.

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And, it looks like the first in a long line of extinctions on the horizon. The vaquita dolphin in the northern Gulf of California looks like it is on the way out, with only 250 to 400 left. Say goodbye:

The animals remain highly threatened by fishing and shrimp harvesting in the region, according to an overview of the species' status published this summer in the quarterly journal Mammal Review...

But between 39 and 78 vaquitas are killed each year due to entrapment in fishing nets, Rojas Bracho said.

That number exceeds the estimated number of yearly births, providing the basis for the team's lowered population estimate.

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