The Tragedy of The Yangtze River Dolphin

The small, shy baiji is one of five species of freshwater river dolphin. In 2006, the Yangtze River dolphin became functionally extinct. It was the first human-caused extinction of a dolphin species.

Chinese legend tells of a beautiful princess whose family drowned her in the Yangtze when she refused to marry a man she didn’t love. The princess was reincarnated as a baiji. The Yangtze River dolphin became a symbol of peace, love and prosperity. People called the dolphin the “Goddess of the Yangtze”.

The story of the Chinese princess was written in the 3rd century BC. At the time, an estimated 5,000 baiji lived in the Yangtze River. Today, the baiji is functionally extinct. Although there was one sighting in 2007, indicating that a few baiji may still exist, experts believe there is no hope for recovery.

Fossil records show that the baiji first appeared 25 million years ago. Twenty million years ago, the baiji began to evolve into a freshwater species, moving from the Pacific Ocean into the Yangtze River.

The baiji is a small dolphin with a long, slender bill. It feeds on fish, and grows up to 8 ft (2.4m) in size. The dolphin is almost blind. A baiji fetus has eyes on the sides of its head, but as the fetus develops, the eyes travel closer to the top of its head, to make the best use of available light from the river’s surface. The baiji navigates and finds food by echolocation, sending out a series of beeps, clicks and whistles.

Hear a SOUND CLIP of the baiji.

An astonishing twelve percent of the world’s population lives along the Yangtze, and the river churns with diesel-engine boats of all sizes. The noise of motors and machinery thrums and roars beneath the surface. Along the shores and on the river, fishermen drop nets bearing wicked hooks, competing to catch more of the dwindling supply of fish. Factories and industries dump waste and toxins into the water. Amid this murky cacophony lives the Yangtze River dolphin.

The people along the Yangtze have always known of the dolphin’s existence, but it was only in the twentieth century that the baiji came to the attention of the Western world. An American killed a baiji in Dong Ting Lake in 1914, and shipped it to the Smithsonian Institute. It generated interest, but not much.

In the late 1950’s, Professor Zhou Kai Ya of the Nanjing University discovered a mysterious, unlabeled skeleton waiting for him when he returned from a field trip. He was surprised to discover that the skeleton was of a Yangtze River dolphin, found near Nanjing. Dr. Zhou interviewed local fisherman, who confirmed many baiji sightings. The baiji often got tangled in fishing nets, and were usually sold or eaten.

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13 Responses to “The Tragedy of The Yangtze River Dolphin”
  1. Tristin Says...

    On December 17, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    This is stupidddd,

  2. Unknown95 Says...

    On December 24, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    This is really sad, that man have to be so greedy for their own purpose and needs, completely ignoring the survival of this remarkable species.

  3. Anna Says...

    On January 21, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    idk what to think………it’s sad :’(

  4. valencia Says...

    On February 2, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    this is sad how man always thinking about them selfes and not about what else lives here with them.we should respect nature and every thing it brings us. how would we feel if the animals were humans and humas were animals. try stepping in there shoes. respect the world stop being greedy and selfish. think about others for a change and if u dont care or think this is stupid then u should be on this earth.

  5. AnikaA Says...

    On March 28, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    I love animals especially the baiji.Humans may be part of earth, but acually they’re ruining it! The baiji is MY FAVORITE animal!
    And now it’s practacly extinct! I can’t belive most people don’t care at all!

  6. AnikaA Says...

    On March 28, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    I know a website that helps animals like the baiji!
    It\\\’s address is !

  7. grace Says...

    On May 17, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    y are people so mean and selfish.If they want to live here in this world they better treat this world as if it were them.I’m only ten and I know that saving the world is no joke at all.

    Keep loving the animals!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    GRACE E. KERSHNER ♥♥♥♥♥:)

  8. sakshi rawat Says...

    On October 2, 2010 at 9:09 am

    love animals guise this is all i wnna say coz animals belong to this environment and environment belongs to u

  9. chacha Says...

    On October 22, 2010 at 8:28 am

    i was doing a science project on the baiji. And most of my sorces said it was almost extinct, but the is just desturbing. :(

  10. Asfartogo Says...

    On October 22, 2010 at 8:30 am

    baiji!! LOVE U! Why! Why! :(

  11. Pablo Says...

    On October 22, 2010 at 8:32 am

    THAT IS sad. Ill never go to a chineese rresurant.

  12. Escarangogo Says...

    On October 22, 2010 at 12:03 pm


  13. Paige Hamilton Says...

    On February 10, 2011 at 5:56 am

    i love all dolphins and i always donate money to there charities. this story had me in tears, now that i know of this story i am going to donate more money than i used to….. just so the other dolphins have a chance of living there lives

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