Some 20 million years of life were declared at an end this week.
Known as baiji, beiji, pai-chi, whitefin dolphy, whiteflag dolphin, Yangtze dolphin, Yangtze River dolphin, the “Goddess of the Chang Jiang” or just the weird dolphins nobody ever sees, the species could apparently not compete against economic growth of 10% per year. A fast-swimming creature, the white river dolphin was difficult to catch, state media noted in 2002. Not difficult enough, as it turns out, since man managed to get rid of it merely as an afterthought.
For what it’s worth, a couple of million people could have shared the dolphin’s fate but chose, instead, to relocate to more hospitable locales after the same growth that may have killed the waterlogged mammal also resulted in the their homes flooding over. (Not that there is a lot of choice: Growth is growth is growth and everybody wants it.)
The river goddess could have gone the relocation route but it didn’t seem to be to its taste. The patriarch of the baiji, Qi Qi, enjoyed the solitary comfort of the dolphinarium at the Wuhan Institute of Hydrobiology from 1980 until his death on July 14, 2002, Wikipedia tells us. Two other white dolphins who tested out potential new digs in 1996 and 1998 did not last more than one year.
There have been no official sightings since 2004 and an expedition that set to find one returned in failure this week. Their return may bring the rather drawn out final days of this 20-million-year-old species to a final conclusion.
The baiji was first declared endangered in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1983 that a law outlawing the hunting of it was enacted. In 1986 the population was estimated at 300 but that was down to 200 in 1990 and 50 in 1997 (although only 23 were found). In 1998, only 7 showed their face. Total sightings this month: None.