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.