October 22, 2009
As reported by the BBC last month, a three year quest to find the Chinese paddlefish has revealed not one sighting. The story is remarkably similar to that of December 2006 when a six week expedition failed to find any sign of the baiji.
Reaching a staggering seven meters, the Chinese paddlefish is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. So little is known about the species that biologists aren't even certain it can properly be referred to as 'freshwater', since the fish may cross between the freshwaters of the Yangtze River to oceanic environments. But no one knows for sure.
The muddy upper Yangtze in northwestern Yunnan. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
"The individuals born in the late 1980s and early 1990s should survive in the wild, since the Yangtze river system is large and it has some complicated habitats where the paddlefish could hide," Qiwei told the BBC.
If fish do survive, however, Qiwei says that they will need active aid from people to avoid extinction, including modern technology to make reproduction possible in such a small, probably fragmented, population. Of course, first the fish have to be found.
The same factors that devastated the baiji are behind the Chinese paddlefish decline and possible extinction: habitat degradation, overfishing, pollution, and massive dam building.
The Yangtze when it reaches Shanghai. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Despite the environmental crisis facing Asia's longest river, Chinese officials are currently considering building another Yangtze River dam. Entitled the Xiaonanhai Dam, its construction would affect the river's only fish reserve and one of the last places where the Chinese paddlefish may survive. In June of this year several environmentalists spoke out saying that the dam could lead to the extinction of even more endangered species, including the Chinese paddlefish.
At the time David Dudgeon, professor of freshwater ecology at the University of Hong Kong, told Reuters: "My guess is that the paddlefish and the Yangtze sturgeon are on the way to extinction already but there are other species that the reserve may be critically important for. The (Xiaonanhai) dam would probably finish off some of the more vulnerable species -- the last nail in the coffin."
With perhaps two flagship species vanishing in a single decade, the Yangtze River is becoming a hotspot for extinction. But it doesn't look as though it will end there: the Chinese sturgeon and the finless porpoise, both suffering from the same impacts as the baiji and Chinese paddlefish, look like probable candidates for the next extinction announcement.
The Yangtze River is also home to the Critically Endangered Chinese alligator, one of the world's most threatened crocodilians.
New Yangtze River dam could doom more endangered species
(06/22/2009) Eight Chinese environmentalists and scientists have composed a letter warning that a new dam under consideration for the Yangtze River could lead to the extinction of several endangered species. The letter contends that Xiaonanhia Dam, which would be 30 kilometers upstream from the city of Chongqing, will negatively impact the river’s only fish reserve. Spanning 400 kilometers in the upper Yangtze, the reserve is home to 180 fish species, including the Endangered Chinese sturgeon, and the Critically Endangered Chinese paddlefish, as well as the finless porpoise.
China delays massive water scheme to redirect rivers from south to north
(12/31/2008) China will delay ambitious plans to divert billions of water to its arid north amid environmental concerns, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The extinction of the baiji a 'wake-up call' to conserve vaquita and other cetaceans
(08/25/2008) In December of 2006 an expedition spent six weeks surveying the Yangtze River in China for one of the world's rarest cetaceans, the baiji. Also known as 'The Goddess of the Yangtze' the shy river-dolphin had roamed the river for millions of years locating fish with echolocation. The survey came back empty-handed without a spotting a single dolphin. Dr. Jay Barlow, a member of the surveying team, described his emotions on the expedition's findings in an interview with Mongabay.com: "I was stunned. I knew the species was in trouble, but I did not think they were already gone. We really had not seen the extinction of a large mammal species in 50 years, so we grew complacent."
New expedition seeks evidence for survival of the 'extinct' Baiji
(04/16/2008) The EDGE program, apart of the London Zoological Society, has sent an expedition to the Yangtze River to survey local fishermen for any evidence that the Baiji may still survive.
Poll: Chinese more concerned about the environment than Americans
(04/07/2008) A poll released today found that 10.2 percent of the Chinese population lists environmental concerns as the nation's number one issue. It is the fourth highest concern among the Chinese after health care, employment, and the income-gap. According to the poll, the Chinese view the environment as higher than corruption, social security, housing prices, and the cost of education.
China begins blocking river for second largest dam
(11/12/2007) China began damming the Jinsha River for its biggest hydroelectric project after the Three Gorges Project, reports Chinese state media.
Rare Chinese river dolphin sighting in doubt
(09/01/2007) A prominent researcher is skeptical of last week's reported sighting of the baiji, the Chinese river dolphin declared extinct earlier this year, according to the New York Times. The sighting near Tongling city in Anhui Province -- widely reported in Chinese and Western media -- was captured on video.
Environmental, safety concerns mount over China's Three Gorges Dam
(08/29/2007) Environmental problems are worse than anticipated at China's massive Three Gorges Dam, reports the The Wall Street Journal. A year after its completion, there are rising concerns of pollution, landslides, and flooding.
Extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin is confirmed
(08/08/2007) After an extensive six-week search scientists have confirmed the probable extinction of the baiji or Yangtze river dolphin. The freshwater dolphin's extinction had been reported late last year.
Damage to Yangtze 'irreversible' says China
(04/16/2007) Pollution, dams and excessive boat traffic have caused an 'largely irreversible' decline in the aquatic ecology of the Yangtze says a report issued by China's official State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).
The news of extinction: western media's response to the demise of the Baiji
(04/01/2007) The news came and went with an alacrity that I found alarming, almost jolting. I waited for weeks, faithfully; I could not believe that the initial announcement would be followed by nothing but silence on the issue, no rationalizations, no opinions, no discussions, no outpourings of grief. Just silence.
Goodbye to the Baiji
(12/14/2006) After a short illness spurred by pollution, overfishing, boat traffic, and obstructions like dams, the Baiji was declared 'functionally extinct' last night. As a species, the river dolphin found only in China's Yangtze River was 20 million years. The Baiji is survived by other river dolphins, all themselves threatened, in the Ganges, Indus, Amazon, Orinoco, and La Plata rivers. No memorial service will be held.