Baiji: Yangtze River dolphin RIP

Drawing of the extinct Yangtze river dolphin
Drawing of the extinct Yangtze River dolphin

The “B” section of the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals has taken us to a very sad place. The baiji, also referred to as the Yangtze River dolphin, is extinct. Now this isn’t a prehistoric dolphin that died out thousands of years ago, this freshwater dolphin lived to see the digital age and even made it as far as the memory cards on people’s digital cameras. But alas, despite making it so far, the baiji is now considered to be extinct.

Fully, adapted to navigate the muddy waters of the Yangtze River blind. The baiji looked like a dolphin from another era, with beady little eyes, a long narrow beak, broad flippers and stone gray coloring. This dolphin’s history went way back. According to Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, “It is a relict species and the only living representative of a whole family of mammals. It was described early in the ancient dictionary, Erh Ya, published as long ago as 200 BC.”

Well, unfortunately this last living representative of a whole family of mammals is gone. During 2006, a detailed survey was conducted to count and find all remaining baiji. Survey results = zero.

The baiji wasn’t the victim of ruthless hunting. The baiji was a victim of humans’ total disregard for its habitat. The Yangtze River resembles a toxic wasteland. The encyclopedia cites 15.6 billion cubic meters of waste water entering the river every year. Not to mention destructive fishing practices, shipping, dams and alterations to the river banks to prevent flooding.

With one-third of China’s population living along the Yangtze Valley where the river flows, the deck was stacked against the baiji. As human population expands across the globe, infringing on animal habitats everywhere you wonder what animal is next?

And to the baiji river dolphin, may you rest in peace. Hopefully, lessons have been learned from your untimely demise.

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