August 8, 2007

Well, that’s depressing.

Posted in Animals, Environment at 9:21 pm by The Lizard Queen

The Yangtze River dolphin has been declared officially extinct (emphasis added):

It is the first official extinction of a large vertebrate for more than 50 years.

Experts say human activity killed off the white long-beaked dolphin, which grew to 8ft weighed up to 500lb.

The animal is the first cetacean, the group of mammals that includes dolphins, whales and porpoises, to vanish from Earth as a direct result of human influence.

In the 1950s the dolphin, a species unique to the Yangtze river also known as the Baiji, had a population of thousands. Over the next five decades its numbers declined rapidly as China modernised and made heavy use of the river for fishing, transport, and electricity generation.

During Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”, traditional veneration of the Baiji – nicknamed “Goddess of the Yangtze” – was denounced and the dolphin hunted for its flesh and skin.

Industrial pollution, depleted food supplies due to overfishing, loss of habitat, and the construction of the Three Gorges Dam all put further pressure on the dolphin. Stocks of some of its prey species collapsed to one thousandth of their pre-industrial levels.

Efforts to save the species came too late, and now it is officially extinct. Chairman Mao was just full of great ideas, wasn’t he? (Let it never be said that I’m only critical of U.S. heads of state…)

[h/t to PZ Myers]

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