First extinction

of a cetacean in modern times. Dolphins and humans have shared the Yangtze for maybe 30,000 years — how many people, over how many generations, have knownbaiji-dolphin.jpg these creatures? How many with wonder, how many with awe, how many in delight?

From the New York Times:

The baiji, a rare, nearly blind white dolphin that survived for 20 million years, is effectively extinct, an international expedition declared after ending a fruitless six-week search of its Yangtze River habitat. The baiji would be the first large aquatic mammal driven to extinction since hunting and overfishing killed off the Caribbean monk seal in the 1950s. For the baiji, the culprit was a degraded habitat — busy ship traffic, which confounds the sonar the dolphin uses to find food, and overfishing and pollution in the Yangtze waters of eastern China, the expedition said. “The baiji is functionally extinct,” said August Pfluger, who helped put together the expedition. “We might have missed one or two animals, but it won’t survive in the wild.” Around 400 baiji were believed to be living in the Yangtze in the early 1980s. The last full-fledged search, in 1997, yielded 13 confirmed sightings.

The search team has a website — some dolphins survive in marine zoos, and the first successful breeding in captivity occurred in 2005.

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