Update 2010/2012: Five Year Review

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the United States Department of Commerce, announced in July 2010 the initiation of a 5-year review of the status of the baiji:

NMFS announces a 5-year review of the Baiji/Chinese River Dolphin/Yangtze River Dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA). A 5-year review is a periodic process conducted to ensure that the listing classification of a species is accurate and it is based on the best scientific and commercial data available at the time of the review; therefore, we are requesting submission of any such information on the Baiji/Chinese River Dolphin/Yangtze River Dolphin that has become available. Based on the results of this 5-year review, we will make the requisite finding under the ESA.

The final results of the NMFS review actually became available in 2012. The conclusion is as follows:

While no baiji were seen during the 2006 survey, there are still periodic, undocumented claims of baiji sightings (Turvey et al. 2010, Conservation Biology, 24, 778). While there may still be a few individuals in the Yangtze River and its tributaries, it is unlikely that these individuals would be able to perpetuate the species considering the existing threats in the Yangtze River and the survival potential of small populations. This leads to us conclude that the baiji is extremely close to, if not already, extinct. While we determine that the baiji is functionally extinct, we do not recommend changing the classification [i.e., endangered] at this time.

Soooo... while pretty much everyone agrees that the baiji is either functionally or completely extinct, it stays on the books as “endangered” for now (at least in the legal context of the United States Endangered Species Act).