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Well, here’s something a little new! I’ve been focusing on deep sea critters for a while, but I thought I’d introduce something a little more contemporary and meaningful. I introduce to you the most endangered marine cetacean in the world, the baiji. These guys haven’t been seen in a few years, and may even be extinct. However, my hopes are that there are a few out there, and with great amounts of hope and help from us, they can reach a stable population once again. This entry is going to be a little less info-packed and a little more subjective, so enjoy!
Now, according to Wikipedia, this guy is functionally extinct, meaning that there is no hope, because even if numbers did rise, there would be massive amounts of inbreeding, decreasing the organisms fitness, leading to an ultimate demise. Although this seems a little drastic, it’s unfortunately the likely outcome. However, the IUCN redlist, of threatened species, gives us a little more hope by categorizing baiji as “critically endangered”. The next worst thing on the IUCN redlist is “extinct in the wild”, which is where the baiji is headed unless there’s more help for them.
The baiji decline is attributed to the industrialization of the Yangtze River, which is the only natural baiji habitat. The entire living space for these creatures is about 1100 miles. from the mid to lower Yangtze. Compare that to the bottlenose dolphin, which have a near worldwide distribution, or to the killer whale, who have an even larger distribution, and then throw in copious amounts of boat pollution, and we’ve got ourselves a problem. In addition, cetaceans have rather long gestation periods—10 to 11 months, meaning that a pregnant mother must be able to combat these less than pristine conditions for this long and then hope that a calf can, too.
There have been efforts on China’s part to conserve Baiji populations, both in situ and ex situ. However, it is thought that the Yangtze River is beyond repair and so most in situ efforts are no longer options. This leaves options such as relocating the animals and raising a large enough population.However, there have not been any confirmed baiji sightings since 2007. We’d have to be lucky enough to find a male and a female in the near future to even have a glimpse of hope for the Yangtze River Dolphin. Unfortunately, the baiji have a history of not fairing too well in captivity. If they were to go extinct, they would be the first marine mammal to become extinct since the Japanese Sea Lion in the 1950s.
There is little hope for the Baiji, but a little is better than none. It would take major efforts on our part, but if a few could be found, and survive in captivity, it would ensure a brighter future for this adorable endangered cetacean specie.