Not-So-Extinct White River Dolphin Spotted

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In a surprise move, the white-flag dolphin came out of extinction to perform some acrobatics for a Chinese factory owner (is there any other kind?) with a digital camera. This was particularly notable as the dolphin was declared "most likely extinct" by a Chinese scientist just a week ago, which was instantly translated to "definitively extinct" by media outlets throughout the world. Now officially categorized as "not so extinct," the dolphin is still almost certainly "practically extinct" but the sighting does provide a sliver of hope. The media outlets rush to publish has brought international attention (more so) to the plight of the dolphin and, while the outpouring of sympathy for the Yangtze River resident was admirable, maybe it will now be followed by an even more admirable outpouring of cash.

The "big white animal" was filmed in the river on August 19 and the footage was analyzed by the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The white-flag dolphin, unique to China's Yangtze River, is listed as one of the 12 most endangered species in the world. Its population dropped to below 150 in the early 1990s from around 400 a decade earlier.

A team of 25 scientists from China, the United States, Britain, Japan, Germany and Switzerland failed to find any white-flag dolphin during a 38-day search last year. However, this siting has prompted calls for another expedition. Hopefully, the elusive cetacean will pull a Tupac and continue to produce "new footage" even if it is again pronounced "a little bit extinct."


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That's really good news, but probably just a delay of the inevitable. I hope they get Craig Ventner there to get the genome or something.

It sounds like the only hope at this point is to set up a captive breeding program. There's no way the Yangtze River is going to get cleaned up in time. Perhaps if the Chinese see the dolphin as a source of national pride, much like the bald eagle and DTT in America's past.

Hee's hoping that this s a sign that there are a few more out there and this isn't the last one saying goodbye.

To Salem Smith: the Yangtze has always been muddy and murky due to the loess blown off the northern plateau and ending up in the river, or being washed into the river by rain. Hence the river dolphin has very weak eyesight and small eyes, as you can see in the photo, because it's adapted for that sort of environment. This also makes it very hard to find in general.

Sadly, "cleaning" the Yantze isn't going to help, since the worst pollution, from the river dolphin's point of view, is the noise. They use sound to navigate, and the increasing magnitude of shipping traffic impairs their ability to sense the environment.