The first eight pages of this document were written in 1995. We were much younger, there were still baiji swimming in the Yangtze River, and China was a different world. A lot has changed for all of us since then...
Wuhan and Qi Qi
The baiji aquarium of the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Prior to leaving the United States, we communicated (via fax) with Dr. Zhang Xianfeng, who bears the rather impressive title of Associate Professor and Vice Director of the Department of River Dolphin Research of the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, to arrange for permission to visit the new baiji aquarium.
Donald and Zhang Xianfeng in front of a sculpture of river dolphins at the Institute of Hydrobiology.
Qi Qi the baiji. Unfortunately, we could not use a flash for fear of upsetting the animal, and he was moving quite rapidly, so the photo is a little blurry; even so, it represents one of our most prized memories of China.
A few interesting facts about Qi Qi (told to us by Dr. Zhang)
A few days later, as we were leaving Wuhan on a river ferry to travel through the Three Gorges region, we were fortunate enough to spot a group of about five finless porpoises swimming downstream past our ship. We were out on the deck of the ship at the time and the Chinese passengers were either completely nonplussed by the appearance of the porpoises, which were humping along through the water, looking like large, black sausages, or they didn't even notice them. (Or perhaps they were just too distracted by the sudden and excited histrionics of the two crazy foreigners dashing back along the length of the ship to keep the porpoises in sight.) Unfortunately, despite many hours spent on the decks of various ships scanning the vast and murky Yangtze River waters, we never saw a baiji in the wild.
Our typical poses during long ferry rides on the Yangtze River, hanging out on the upper bow deck, futilely hoping to catch a glimpse of a baiji in its native habitat (and, not coincidentally, spending as much time as possible in the best place on the ship to catch a cool breeze to relieve the otherwise constant and oppressive heat and humidity of the Yangtze River valley in summer).
The hydrofoil boat that we took back downstream through the Three Gorges, from Wanxian to Yichang. It took us three days and nights to sail upstream on the ferry, and six hours to return on the hydrofoil. The hydrofoil was apparently of Russian origin, judging by the Cyrillic writing on all signs and placards inside it (having to decipher the emergency evacuation instructions out of Cyrillic might have bothered us if we hadn't known that the alternative would just have been deciphering them out of Chinese).