China’s Yangtze River was once home to two incredible species of freshwater dolphins and porpoises – the Baiji dolphin and the Yangtze finless porpoise. Sadly, in 2006, the Baiji dolphin was declared extinct. Even worse – their extinction was caused by humans.
“This was the first time in history that an entire species of dolphin had been wiped off the planet because of human activity,” the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says.
Since the Baiji went extinct, it has been an extreme fear that the Yangtze finless porpoise will be next. In 2014, the Chinese government gave this extremely endangered species the strictest protections available by law, but of course, there are always those that seem to think they are above the law.
Just like the Baiji, the Yangtze finless porpoise is being threatened by an overabundance of fishing operations near their habitat, causing a loss in their food supply. The porpoises are also often caught in nets or hit by the passing fishing boats.
WWF is trying their best to work with the government to relocate the finless porpoises to safer areas of the river. They are also trying to help fishermen find alternative means of income.
“The news has not been good,” Judy A. Takats, a lead of river basin stewardship at WWF, told The Dodo. “The Yangtze finless porpoise was once a common sight, but its population has decreased an average of 13.7 percent annually in recent years … If these threats were not eliminated or minimized, it was thought the porpoise may become functionally extinct by 2025.”
Another tactic to help save the unique and intelligent porpoise is to reconnect nearby lakes to the river, creating safe, remote areas for them to migrate, feed, live, and hopefully breed. The conservationists are hoping to have a few of these ‘safe zones’ for the species.
In the 1990s, WWF was able to successfully relocate a small group of these finless porpoises to Tian-e-zhou Oxbow Lake, which is part of protected wetlands.
“Since the first group of five porpoises were transferred to the [lake] in 1990, their numbers have increased to about 75,” Takats said. “These animals are not only able to survive, but can also reproduce naturally in this reserve.
Since the success of the first small group of porpoises, the World Wildlife Fund hopes to replicate the efforts to help grow the population of this critically endangered species. As of today, the WWF says that the Yangtze finless porpoise has a dangerously low population of 1,000.
Conservationists are working around the clock patrolling riverbanks for any dangerous items left behind by fishermen.
Boats are constantly patrolling the Yangtze River in search of discarded nets or litter left behind by fishing boats. They will also continue to provide education to the fishermen about their impact on the environment, as well as finding other forms of income. Hopefully, with these efforts, the population of this smiley porpoise will be thriving.
“People really do want to see the porpoise thrive in the Yangtze River,” Takats said. “That’s why we’re leading initiatives that keep rivers healthy, well-connected and flowing … That being said, we can’t take our foot off the gas for a moment.”
Although conservationists are making progress, there is still a lot of work to be done before this beautiful species is no longer threatened or on the brink of extinction. Thankfully, there are ways that you can make a difference…
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Source: The Dodo