china's dolphin

Entry 26: Baiji 白鱀豚 (Lipotes vexillifer)

The last  of the Lipotidae mammal family that appeared from 20 million years ago, the Baiji was a river dolphin of the mighty Yangtze River of China.  It was the subject of a myth, earning it the nickname “The Goddess of the Yangtze”

Weighing upwards of 300-510 lbs (135-250 kilograms), they could grow up to 8 feet (2.4 metres) long and had a unique  lower dorsal fin that earned the Baiji it’s Latin name that means ‘white-flag’.  They had poor vision due to the murky waters of its home that hosts heavy sediment throughout, so they relied on sonar to navigate the Yangtze.

During the Great Leap Forward, a period of economic growth pushed by the Communist Party of China in the mid-century, threats to the Baiji grew exponentially.  Hunting by humans, electric fishing, boat collisions, habitat loss, pollution, and entanglement in fishing gear hit the Baiji on all sides. Though the Baiji was once venerated, this period decimated their populations, particularly by-catch by fisheries.  

By 1996, the IUCN listed the Baiji as critically endangered, and by 1998 only 7 were found in a survey.  The last confirmed sighting occurred in 2006 and by 2007, the Baiji was considered, if not completely extinct, functionally extinct throughout its range.  It is the first dolphin species to be killed off by human activities. 

Baiji Chinese River Dolphin – EX (?)

Remaining Population: none confirmed since 2002.
Range: Yangtze River, China
Primary Threats: Pollution, illegal fishing practices, habitat loss, hunting

  • Approximately 12% of the world’s human population lives/works on the banks of the Yangtze River.
  • Relied on Sonar Navigation
  • The dolphins had on average 1 calf per 2-3 years and a 30% fertility rate, making population recovery close to impossible.
  • While conservation efforts began in the early 1978 with a Baiji dolphin research center; though only 1 was successfully captured and who lived more than a few months. Breeding proved unsuccessful, and the center was flooded and destroyed.
  • The Chinese government implemented various conservation zones along the river, but was ineffective as the population plummeted to under 100.