The Baiji Dolphin has been declared ”functionally extinct” – is the finless porpoise next? In this UN Year of Water – the question is : China trying hard enough… or is a case of ‘too little, too late? China Daily reports
A new report has warned that the number of Yangtze finless porpoises has dropped to just1,000 in the country’s longest river - less than half of what there were in 2006 - making the species even rarer than the wild giant panda.
The 2012 Yangtze Freshwater Dolphin Survey Report, released in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Thursday, said that the endangered species is now declining by 13.7 percent a year, compared with 5 percent six years ago.
It blamed the decline in the mammal’s numbers on food shortages and human disturbances,such as increased shipping traffic.
The findings were the result of a 44-day, 3,400-km expedition by researchers on the river,between Yichang, in Hubei province, and Shanghai that started in November.
It was led by researchers from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Institute of Hydrobiology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the World Wide Fund For Nature and the Wuhan Baiji Dolphin Conservation Fund.
The crew visually identified 380 individual Yangtze finless porpoises in the river’s mainstream during the trip.
Based on that observation, scientists determined that the population of the species in the mainstream was about 500, down from 1,225 in 2006.
In October, research was also carried out in two adjoining lakes, the Poyang and Dongting,where the total population was assessed at about 540.
“The species is moving fast toward extinction,” said Wang Ding, the general director of the research team, and a professor at the Institute of Hydrobiology.
According to data captured with acoustic equipment, the largest groups of finless porpoises were found in sections of the river east of Wuhan, with 67 percent of the total number recorded between Hukou, Hubei province, and Nanjing, Jiangsu province.
They were in a scattered distribution pattern, which could be the result of ”shipping traffic that made migration harder, water conservancy facilities that altered hydrological conditions in the middle and lower reaches of the river, and habitat loss,” added Wang.
The report said some small groups of finless porpoises living in comparative isolation were not a positive sign for future breeding of the mammal.
Scientists found fewer finless porpoises in the mainstream of the Yangtze while more discoveries were made in wharf and port areas.
“They may risk their lives for rich fish resources there. But the busy shipping traffic close to the port areas poses a huge threat to their survival,” said Wang.
Researchers found denser distribution of finless porpoises in waters that are not open to navigation and attributed this to less human disturbance.
But evidence of illegal fishing practices were discovered in these areas, including traps.
Lei Gang, director of the freshwater program at WWF-China, warned urgent measures are essential to save the species from extinction.
With that in mind, the report called for year-round fishing ban for all river dolphin reserves, the establishment of a national reserve in Poyang Lake, and conservation reserves along the Yangtze.
Attempts to look for traces of the Baiji Dolphin, another rare cetacean and close relative of the finless porpoise, failed during the survey. As a result, the Baiji dolphin has been declared”functionally extinct” by the report.
- Yangtze finless porpoise population nosedives to 1,000 (wwf.panda.org)
- Yangtze finless porpoise moving swiftly toward extinction (wantchinatimes.com)
- WWF says Chinese ‘river pig’ close to extinction (thenewstribe.com)
- Wildlife group says Chinese ‘river pigs’ are close to extinction (rawstory.com)
- Porpoise protection ‘insufficient’ (bbc.co.uk)
- WWF says Chinese porpoises close to extinction (straitstimes.com)
- Yangtze Finless Porpoise in Danger: Scientists Say Protection Insufficient (scienceworldreport.com)
- Qaecologists at SCCS-Brisbane 2013 (qaeco.com)
- The 10 Rarest Animals in the World (antoniodizon0.wordpress.com)
- Extinction (brokenrulesmagazine.com)
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However, experts have warned that too much attention could also be a problem for the birds.
The Wuhan Evening News reported last week that more than 50 migratory birds, including twowhite swans that are under national second-class protection, were found dead. A third swan was found with part of a metal trap on its leg.
Bags containing toxic pesticides have been found scattered around the wetland.
The reports have aroused much public concern, and a growing number of people have gone to thearea to help protect these endangered animals.
A China Daily reporter on Sunday morning saw an animal protection group, with about 30members, post a banner urging the public to ”protect wild animals” in the wetland, where the birds’bodies were found.
“We are a civil organization and we volunteered to come here,” said a young member, who onlygave his surname as Liu. “We hope to raise public awareness about protecting these wild animals and alert government departments to take responsibility.”
But the report also drew many cars full of curious spectators to the wetland, which shattered its natural silence.
“The place is popular for many wild animals, especially some migratory birds,” said Huang Lide, a 48-year-old local farmer.
According to Huang, many migratory birds use the wetland as a transit hub and make their nests there year after year.
“Some of the visitors took their children to the wetland as well,” Huang said. “It’s more like a family trip out of curiosity.”
Local farmer Zhang Xiaoluo, 58, told the Wuhan Evening News that he had seen more and more people come to observe the white swans, and some of them even set off firecrackers on the banks of the wetland.
“The birds flew away as they were scared by the noise,” said Zhang.
Yang Guoxiang, a senior engineer from Hubei’s wildlife protection center, suggested citizens paythoughtful visits. “More visits don’t bring more help,” he said.
“Rescue activity with constructive ideas is encouraged, but it should not be for fun,” he told ChinaDaily.
Tang Zhaozi, a professor at the college of life sciences at Wuhan University, agreed.
He confirmed that rising human activity had driven some white swans away.
A netizen nicknamed Dichanlaozhang, who is also an amateur photographer, discovered the swans’ tragedy on Feb 3. He quickly reported the incident to the local forestry department andposted a photo of a trapped swan online.
The local forestry department launched an investigation into the birds’ death on Thursday.
Law enforcement officials penalized seven restaurants nearby, as they were caught selling themeat of hunted wild animals, which is forbidden by law.
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