Sunday, December 17, 2006

 

The Baiji: 20 Million Years and a Farewell

From The New York Times: The first species to be erased from this planet's great and ancient Order of Cetaceans in modern times is not one of the charismatic sea mammals that have long been the focus of conservation campaigns, like the sperm whale or bottlenose dolphin.

It appears to be the baiji, a white, nearly blind denizen of the Yangtze River in China.

On Wednesday, an expedition in search of any baiji, run by Chinese biologists and baiji.org, a Swiss foundation, ended empty-handed after six weeks of patrolling its onetime waters in the middle and lower stretches of the river, the baiji's only known habitat.

The Yangtze, Asia's longest waterway and thought to be akin to the Amazon long ago in its biological richness, now has a dominant species: the 400 million (and counting) people busily plying its waters and industrializing its banks.

Continued at "20 Million Years and a Farewell" [Evolution]

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From The baiji.org Foundation:

Wuhan, 13 December 2006 - The Baiji Yangtze Dolphin is with all probability extinct. On Wednesday, in the city of Wuhan in central China, a search expedition, under the direction of the Institute for Hydrobiology Wuhan and the Swiss-based baiji.org Foundation, drew to a finish without any results. During the six-week expedition scientists from six nations desperately searched the Yangtze in vain.

The scientists were travelling on two research vessels almost 3500 kilometers from Yichang nearby the Three Gorges Dam to Shanghai into the Yangtze Delta and back, using high-performance optical instruments and underwater microphones.

"It is possible we may have missed one or two animals", said August Pfluger, head of Swiss-based baiji.org Foundation and co-organizer of the expedition on Wednesday in Wuhan. Regardless, these animals would have no chance of survival in the river. "We have to accept the fact, that the Baiji is functionally extinct.. It is a tragedy, a loss not only for China, but for the entire world", said Pfluger in Wuhan.

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Info on the Baiji:

The baiji is a graceful animal, with a long, narrow and slightly upturned beak and a flexible neck. As opposed to some other freshwater dolphins, like the Indus River dolphin, its eyes are functional, although greatly reduced. Its coloration is bluish-gray to gray above and white to ashy-white below. It weighs 135 - 230 kg (300 - 510 lb) and measures as much as 2.5 m (8.2') in length.

The baiji only occurs in freshwater rivers and lakes. It favors large eddy counter-currents such as are found below meanders; channel convergences; and areas in a river with structure, such as sandbars. In the Yangtze River, the baiji generally lives in the deeper sections, swimming to shallow water only to catch small fish. Any available species of small (less than 6.5 cm (2.5") in width) freshwater fish is eaten. Feeding activity is primarily diurnal.

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Info
on the Order Cetacea:

The order Cetacea comprises two extant sub-orders and one extinct sub-order. The extant sub-orders are Mysticeti (baleen whales) and Odontoceti (toothed whales). Both mysticetes and odontocetes are thought to be descendants of archaeocetes (Archaeoceti, ancient whales), an extinct sub-order. There are at least 83 living species of cetaceans, with 46 genera in 14 families. Of the two extant suborders, Odontoceti is larger and more diverse, with at least 70 species, 40 genera, and 10 families. Cetaceans, along with bats, are considered some of the most derived mammals on the planet. They evolved from terrestrial animals to an entirely aquatic life form that is completely separated from the land in all aspects of biology. Cetaceans live, breed, rest, and carry out all of their life functions in the water. (Gingerich et al., 2001; Reeves et al., 2002; Rice, 1984)

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