Thursday, August 9, 2007

Save the dolphins

I love animals. I love every single species irrespective of how un-photogenic they are or how reviled they are by society at large. I love centipedes, jellyfish, squids - the most touching encounter I ever had with an animal was with a sea urchin. It always pisses me off that many other people have such a low tolerance for these fascinating, charming animals and yet you show these same people a tiger or a dolphin and suddenly they start babbling on like they want to go to bed with it. Noone really cares about the imminent extinction of the Tasmanian giant freshwater crayfish. Dolphins on the other hand, enjoy significantly better P.R. The high profile status of dolphins was, unfortunately, not enough to prevent the extinction of the Yangtze River Dolphin, Lipotes vexillifer (or 'Baiji') of China. An international team recently conducted a comprehensive survey of the Baiji's habitat and have concluded that the river dolphin is extinct. The Baiji was an unusual animal, having evolved in isolation for about 20 million years. Rivers are muddy places with virtually no visibility, a condition which resulted in the highly developed sonar adaptations the almost blind Baijis used for catching fish. However, the constant boat traffic of The Yangtze River interfered with the Baiji's sonar so much that for most of the time it was rendered sonically 'blind'. The reckless activities of humans using destructive and indiscriminate fishing techniques were a major cause of the dolphins' decline. And now they're all dead, the first cetacean (the group of mammals that includes dolphins, whales and porpoises) to be driven to extinction by human activities. The demise of any species is truly tragic, but it is really disheartening to see that even a charismatic animal like the Baiji (which is revered in Chinese folklore as the spirit of a drowned princess) can be allowed to slip into extinction by the humans that share its habitat. What hope have all the un-cute critically endangered animals got?


Yangtze dolphin dissapears - The Age

6 comments:

Roger said...

There's an adorably cute pink dolphin that lives in the Amazon. I hope it has better PR than its Chinese relative.

http://www.isptr-pard.org/dolphin.html

Of course, who cares if the grey Amazon river dolphin goes extinct--it's not half as cute.

dr. jack cambrian said...

Roger: Exactly. The Chinese government has worked very hard to look after the adorable giant panda, the Baiji obviously just didn't make the cut aesthetically. I assume that todays governments make their endangered species policies via a beauty contest.

Roger said...

It's in the eye of the beholder anyway (though I believe they have lots of eyes); I think the Baiji is profoundly attractive. Don't tell anyone, though.

Anthony said...

When I first heard this I was shocked at the lack of effort from the Chinese authorities. Conservation groups knew that the dolphins were incredibly scarce and close to extincion as early at the 1980s. It may suprise you to hear but there is still a man made waterway currently under construction built purely to save this enigmantic species.... bit late now. The previous survey to the one just conducted a few months back, only found three dolphins and still the chinese governement couldnt give a shit because it would hamper their economic mission along the Yangze.
Lets just hope the sub species of irrawaddy dolphin also found along the Yangze doesnt go the same way as the Baiji. At last count I think the survey only found a handfull.
And dont just think this is happening in China.... 10 out of the 22 native fish species found within the Murray Darling basin have gone extinct or are on the very brink due to competition from exotic species and the shitty management of water resources causing the rivers to run dry. All to irrigate crops suited to temperate regions currently growing in Victoria's arid north.

Rant over, this stuff really shits me

Anthony said...

Oh and while I'm at it....

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/07/070726-china-fish.html

dr. jack cambrian said...

Anthony: I'm certainly not under the impression that this is only happening in China - that's why I made reference to the giant Tasmanian crayfish. It's that same general human indifference to losing something that you can never get back. But anyone who is actually reading my posts is acutely aware of this and I shan't go on about it.