Unfortunately, our main conclusion is a sad one: it seems inevitable that the baiji will become extinct soon (see Update 2006). Although a conservation program has been started in China, it looks like a case of “too little, too late.” The facilities for initiating a captive breeding population of river dolphins are now in place in China, but they stand empty because no baiji can be found to fill them. The best estimates place the number of baiji remaining in the wild at substantially less than 100 – it may be the case that there are already too few baiji to even sustain a viable breeding population, captive or otherwise.
The baiji and their potential saviors face considerable obstacles. Our experiences while traveling up and down the Yangtze River suggest that the factor which has most influenced the decline of the baiji is the level of pollution caused by humans in the Yangtze River.
The Yangtze River, like the baiji that live in it, appears to have been another victim of China's extremely rapid economic and industrial growth during recent years. In many places, the banks of the river are lined with factories spewing black smoke into the air, and toxic waste and raw sewage into the river. In addition, the river is extremely crowded with boat traffic. We can't recall ever being out of sight of at least one other boat, and often the river was absolutely packed with them – many of them leaking oil and fuel from outdated engines. The passengers and crew on the boats think nothing of throwing all of their garbage right over the side and into the river. It is hard to believe that any organism, much less a creature as large and complex as the baiji, could survive in the Yangtze River.