Yangtze River Dolphin Feared Extinct
It appears that the highly endangered Yangtze River dolphin, also known as the Baiji dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer), is probably extinct. According to a recent story from Time.com, this would be the first time that a species of cetacean was extinguished due to human activity...activities such as overfishing of the Baiji's target food sources, severe pollution in the river systems, a high amount of boat traffic, and lack of intervention to try to save the species. There have not been any confirmed sightings of the dolphin since 2002 and the most recent survey failed to find evidence that they still exist.
The Baiji was quite a unique creature. It foraged for food in shallow waters through the use of echolocation and was virtually blind--due to the cloudy waters in which it lived, eyesight evolved as a less-important function over time. Unfortunately, the frequent boat traffic then interfered with the dolphins' hearing, thus making echolocation, and their ability to find food, more difficult. The Baiji's demise should serve as yet another reminder that we need to be mindful of our environment and remember that we are sharing this planet with many other forms of life. The Finless Porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides), another resident of the Yangtze River is also at risk, but if we modify our behavior, there is still hope of saving it. (The photo in this post is from AFP/Getty and appeared with the original story.)