Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Yangtze River dolphin feared extinct

Scientists in China report an extended expedition in search of the baiji, or white dolphin, a nearly blind river-dwelling cetacean, yielded no sightings. August Pfluger, co-leader of the international effort, says they may have missed a few dolphins, but not enough to constitute a viable population. He adds, ""We have to accept the fact that the Baiji is functionally extinct. We lost the race."

COMMENT: If the baiji is going extinct, it will be the first cetacean driven out of existence by humans (in its case, by pollution and heavy boat traffic) in recorded times. Human activity has cost the planet at least two other marine mammals, the Japanese sea lion and (most scientists agree) the Caribbean monk seal. Two other small cetaceans, the vaquita and China's finless porpoise, another river-dweller, are on the edge. Will we act? There is hope, I think. It's hard to get most people excited about an insect or a toad going extinct, but dolphins and seals and their kin are kin to us. People notice them. And we would certainly notice their absence.

"The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again."
- William Beebe, 1906.

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