The baiji is the first cetacean to become extinct in modern times, as well as the first large mammal driven to extinction primarily by human destruction of its natural habitat and resources.
On 13 December 2006, the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) was declared “functionally extinct” after a search expedition, under the direction of the Wuhan Institute of Hydrobiology and the (now-defunct) Swiss-based baiji.org Foundation, drew to a finish without observing any baiji. During the six-week expedition, scientists from six nations desperately searched the Yangtze in vain. It is possible that one or two animals might have been missed, but these would offer no hope for the long-term survival of the species. The 20 million year old river dolphin was one of the world's oldest extant species. (See Turvey et al. 2007, Biology Letters, 3, 537)
The last confirmed sighting of a baiji in the Yangtze River was in 2002. In 2007, a man from the city of Tongling on the Yangtze River filmed “a big white animal” in the river that was initially "confirmed" and later refuted to be a baiji. A 44-day survey of 3400 km of the Yangtze River in 2012 (also see here) failed to locate any baiji (also see Update 2007 and Update 2013-2017 below). A baiji sighting reported in 2016 has been met with a similar level of skepticism. Both the 2007 and 2016 sightings were most likely finless porpoises, not baiji.
“Extreme claims for the possible survival of probably extinct species require robust proof, and while I would deeply love there to be strong evidence that the baiji is not extinct, this isn’t it.”
-- Dr. Samuel Turvey, 2016, in an email to The Guardian.
A multi-agency report concludes that the Yangtze River finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis) is in critical danger of extinction. The 2012 survey of the Yangtze resulted in a population estimate of only 505 finless porpoises (down from over 1000 in 2006), and an average annual rate of decline of 13.7% during 2006-2012. Compared to historical estimates of the annual decline rate (6% during 1994-2008 and 1.5% before 1993), it is clear that the rate of decline of the Yangtze finless porpoise is accelerating. This is blamed on food shortages and human disturbances, such as increased shipping traffic, as well as “insufficient and ineffective” conservation methods. (Mei et al. 2014, Biological Conservation, 172, 117)
China's Ministry of Agriculture recently classified the Yangtze finless porpoise as a “National First Grade Key Protected Wild Animal,” the strictest classification available by law. Nonetheless, at its current rate of decline, the Yangtze finless porpoise will be extinct by 2025.
The finless porpoise is now in the position of the baiji 25 years ago.
So it goes.
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