China Thinks They May Have Found One Surviving Baiji Or Chinese River Dolphin

Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia


CHINA — In 2006, a survey conducted in December found a species of River Dolphin — known as the Baiji, or Chinese River Dolphin — to be functionally extinct.  When an animal is classified as such, this means that there’s only a handful of survivors left, and that the odds don’t look good for the species to make a comeback.  12 years after the survey, China thinks they may have found at least one surviving member.  That could mean that, possibly, there’s even more out there.



What’s a River Dolphin?


A River Dolphin is basically what it sounds like.  It’s a dolphin that survives in freshwater; it only lives in rivers.  This is not a formal classification of dolphin, but it’s an easy way to distinguish between the kinds of dolphins most people are aware of, and the four recognized species of river dolphins (with various numbers of subspecies).


There’s a few reasons why river dolphins aren’t as well known to the general public.  For starters, they don’t have a wide range.  There are only a few different species of river dolphin, and they are all restricted to small habitat areas.  


Another reason is that there are not many river dolphins in captivity.  The reasons for this range, but some of the problem has been that getting the animals to reproduce while in captivity has not proven to be successful. On top of this, in the 1950s to the 1970s, many Amazon River Dolphins were captured and sent away to be placed in captivity across the world, but out of the 100 that were sent, only 20 survived.  Currently, only three river dolphins are in captivity; one in Venezuela, one in Peru, and one in Germany.



Why Are They Endangered?


We only know for sure that some species of river dolphins are endangered and face extinction.  For example, the data for the Amazon River Dolphin is data deficient, or in other words, we don’t have enough information on the species to list it on the IUCN scale of endangerment. 


However, with that said, many species of River Dolphins are extremely vulnerable to habitat destruction, which helps lead to their endangerment.  Because they have such small habitat areas, when part of that habitat is taken over or destroyed, it can effect the entirety of the species.  


This is exactly what happened to the Baiji river dolphin.


Waste from the surrounding area of the Yangtze river, where the Baiji was once found, covered the water.  Ship traffic became a huge problem, as the Yangtze developed because of economic growth in China.  Noise pollution also played a role as the area of the Yangtze became more and more populated.  


The last verified sighting of the Baiji was in 2004, two years before they were declared ‘functionally extinct’.


So …if China Did Find a Baiji, What Does That Mean?


Unfortunately, we don’t quite have the answer to that question.  It would take a lot of work to get to a time where the Yangtze river is save enough for the Baiji to thrive.  “…Destructive fishing methods such as high-voltage electrofishing, floating gill netting, and muro-ami, a technique that uses encircling nets with pounding devices, should be strictly forbidden, and any violation should be punished to protect both the dolphins and their prey,”  Said Hua Yuanyu, a scientist who has been surveying and studying the species since the 80s.  


Basically, the Yangtze River would have to become a protected area via the government if there is any hope to save the Baiji.  


That said, Hua also said that the “reappearance of the baiji is another piece of evidence of the improved Yangtze ecology,” which by all means, is a very good sign for this particular animal.  Another glimmer of hope is that the Baiji “does not live in solitude,” and live in schools, according to Li Xinyuan, who is a Baiji dolphin enthusiast and was there when the photo of what they think is the Baiji was taken.  


On top of all of this, several fishermen have been confirmed to have seen the Baiji for themselves. 




Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


Interview: Emily Beasley and the Behavioral Ecology of Gulls


When you think of scientists studying animals, the first think you think of might not be a seagull.  Especially since, as we mention later, gulls tend to get somewhat of a bad reputation.  You think of gulls and you think of annoying pests on the beach, trying to steal your french fries.  But this scientist doesn't see gulls as the average beach-goer might.


Meet Emily Beasley, a Behavioral Ecologist who is most interested in studying seagulls, and loves to do it.  We talked to her earlier this month, asking her about her job and how she entered the field in the first place, and what specifically she has learned in her study of seagulls.



Q:  First of all, to start things off, Emily, I want to say thank you for sitting down with me today and taking time out of your day to answer some of our questions! I know you've been extremely busy lately, so this means a lot! I’m sure our readers will enjoy this throughly.


A: It’s my pleasure!


Q:  I want to start off with a basic question about what you do.  So your field of study is Behavioral Ecology, which is the study of animal behavior as related to adaption, causation, and development, correct? 


A: Yes, that’s exactly right.  It also involves examining how environmental factors impact on changes in animal behavior.


Q:  Very cool.  This kind of science has always been right up my alley.  So I’m curious: How did you find yourself in this field of study and how long have you been researching animal behavior?


A: I’ve always loved animals and have had pets all my life.  I started riding horses when I was ten and eventually I got a job doing barn chores and teaching riding lessons.  But it really took shape for me when I was an undergraduate student.  I got the opportunity to work at a pet store that did a lot of animal adoptions, and we also hand-raised baby parrots.


For my undergraduate dissertation I did a research project on the impact of ecological validity in puzzle solving abilities of Congo African Parrots.  My supervisor at the time, Professor Maryanne Fisher, connected me with Professor Tom Dickens who runs a field trip to Lundy Island in the UK every year.  I did the field study and absolutely loved it.  I spent a lot of time with Dr. Rob Spencer  watching a gull colony on the island and I was hooked.


When it came time for me to apply to grad school, there was an opportunity to work with Tom and Rob again at Middlesex University in London.


Q: All of that sounds extremely fascinating and really, really fun.  Especially the opportunity to do the field study.  That must’ve been a fantastic trip — I can’t even imagine. What’s your favorite part about the process of studying animal behavior?  Do you have a favorite step, or something else about the research that you enjoy the most? 


A: It was wonderful.  I’ve been back to Lundy every year since that first trip and I still love it.

I really enjoy collecting data.  Being in the field is my favorite place to be, whether it’s in a city looking at urban wildlife or on a remote island watching seabirds.  A lot of work foes into developing and piloting a project before you can go out and collect data, so it’s really rewarding when you see all of your efforts come together.  It’s also a chance to observe the animals in their natural environment and see how they interact with each other and the environment.  You can learn a lot by just attentively watching your study species.


Q: Oh, I bet.  As kids, when you’re watching animals in your own backyard you can learn a lot, so I can’t even imagine how much you’d be able to learn on a trip like that!  Judging by your twitter, your favorite animal to study are birds.  And it would appear that you have a project going on right now to study gulls in urban areas!  What specifically are you hoping to learn with this project?


A:  Yes, they definetely are my favorite!

I actually just finished my Master of Science by Research degree from Middlesex.  I was studying a population of Lesser Black-backed gulls and Herring gulls in Bath, England.  I was interested in gull-human interactions, and gull populations dynamics across the breeding season.

I collected data for 5 months over the 2017 breeding season.  What I found was that the population of foraging gulls in the city fluctuated throughout the breeding season.

The phases in the breeding season were divided by major events that generally happen around the same time every year.  The phases are:


1 — Settling; when the adult gulls return to the breeding sites.

2 — Laying; when the females lay their eggs.

3 — Incubation; incubation of the eggs, which is shared by both parents in my study species.

4 — Rearing; once the chicks have hatched and the parents start to provision them.  And finally:

5 — Fledging; when the chicks leave the next and learn to forage on their own.


There tended to be more gulls in town during the rearing and fledging phases.  This was likely because there was pressure on the adult gulls to provision their growing chicks with more food.


The key findings with regards to gull nuisance behavior were that there was no gull aggression towards humans at all during the course of the breeding season. Gull nuisance occurred more frequently near the end of the breeding season, when the chicks were beginning to fledge, but even then I didn’t observe much nuisance behavior.


Gulls get a bit of a bad reputation, but they’re actually very intelligent, long-lived birds.  Also, all species of breeding gulls in the UK are considered birds of conservation, concern, and the Herring gull is red listed (globally threatened) due to severe declines in their national breeding populations, so it’s really important that people work together to help these gulls instead of vilify them.


Q:  Okay — so this project had already taken place then.  All of that is really incredible, actually.  And I agree with you; there are a lot of animals we tend to vilify solely because of ignorance.  But when you think about animals who have a bad rap, you tend to think of animals like sharks, or predator-creatures, and there tend to be more people on the side of trying to get them to have a better reputation than on an animal like the gull.  So I think this is really important research you did, and I need to admit it wasn’t even something I had thought about on my own.  I’d love to hear more about this at another time!  Are you planning on publishing this research?


And then, if you were to give advice to someone looking to enter the same field of research as you, what do you think you would tell them?


A:  I totally agree with you!  Thank you — there are a lot of great gull and seabird researchers in the UK trying to spread knowledge and I want to contribute as much as I can.  I would like to get it published.  I think it’s important to share what we’re doing as researchers with the rest of the academic community and with the non-academic community, too.


I’d say take opportunities as they come and always be open to new experiences.  Try to put yourself in situations where you are building skills that you would like to have, but also meeting people who are interested and already working in a field you want to enter.  You never know who you’re going to meet while you’re at a conference or volunteering.  Put yourself out there, do what you love, and share your passion with others.


Q:  I think that’s good advice!  Thank you so, so much for joining me again, Emily.  Really.  It’s been a really interesting chat, and I had a really nice time!


A:  I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you.  Thank you for your interest!



Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of She studies English and is a huge fan of all things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.

If You're not Watching Emily Graslie, You're Missing Out


Emily Graslie, of YouTube’s The Brain Scoop, only has a little over 300,000 subscribers, and in this day-and-age of the internet, that isn’t a lot. However, she’s not lacking the viewers because her content isn’t great — it is great. Her educational content, backed up by the Chicago Field Museum, is something worthwhile. Educators on YouTube have made more strides to make the internet more than just jokes and cat videos, and Emily Graslie is one of the best out there.


Her channel started from very humble beginnings. Emily Graslie was discovered by Hank Green, a man who is known for his innovation on YouTube with the help of his brother. Hank Green visited a little museum in Montana called the “Phillip L. Wright Zoological Museum”, where Graslie volunteered. Green, who runs a vlog channel with his brother, recorded the experience and the tour Graslie gave him on camera for his viewers to see. Green was taken by Graslie’s comfort in front of the camera, and the loyal vlogbrothers subscribers loved her, too. Green began to back up Graslie in making a YouTube channel of her own, where she would be educating people on animals, taxidermy, and how museums were run. Soon enough, she was contacted by the Chicago Field Museum, and she was offered a job there.


Now, The Brain Scoop is run out of the Field Museum.


Nearly four years later, though, and not enough people have payed attention to the strides her channel is making. From encouraging young women to join in STEM fields, to keeping people up to date on scientific news (in her new segment called “the Natural News”), to using her time and energy to educate as many people as possible. I don’t think she’s getting the attention she deserves.


Before reaching the Field Museum, Graslie was worried she’d have to shut down the show. They weren’t receiving the funding they needed. A lack of viewers left them unable to pay the small team behind the camera, and even Graslie herself.


Some of the problem may lay with the fact that she wasn’t doing weekly videos. Even with a small team behind her, doing the editing and whatnot, it takes a lot of time and effort to come out with these videos. Between doing all the research, the shooting, the editing, and the processing, a small team can only handle so much. However, Graslie has stated recently that they will be back to making weekly videos soon, and hopefully this will help up their viewer count.


Graslie’s videos cover a wide range of topics that can appeal to many different audiences. She’s gone so far as to skin a wolf on camera for people to watch how taxidermy works. She also goes into more simple subjects, such as the difference between horns and antlers, that can appeal to younger viewers. She has humor thrown throughout to keep viewers entertained, and her quirky personality is something that’s enjoyed by all. She’s extremely intelligent, and she showcases this without being in your face about her knowledge. Her only goal is to educate people as much as she possibly can.


It should be noted that it’s not as though Graslie has gotten no attention for her channel. Early on in the channel’s life, she was featured on the Scientific American website for her work.

  “I mean …that’s pretty awesome,”  — Emily Graslie about being featured on Scientific American


She has even had the opportunity to give a TEDtalk (which you can view here), all about the value of curiosity — a topic she holds dear.


Considering the small size of her channel, it has done well, regardless. However, it still deserves more attention. The Brain Scoop proves to be everything education should be. Free, allowed to the public, easily accessible, fun, worthwhile, and engaging. If you enjoy learning and science, you’re really missing out if you’re not watching The Brain Scoop.

Originally Posted on LinkedIn by Mariah Loeber



Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.


7 Animal Species Getting Closer to Extinction

Originally Published on January 23rd, 2017

One of the biggest science stories of 2016 was that giraffes found their way onto the red list, and that people had somewhat been missing the signs of their endangerment all along.  However, it isn’t only the giraffe that needs the attention.  There are quite a few animals getting closer and closer to extinction.  This list doesn’t even cover everything.  There were also, reportedly, 13 new bird species discovered already declared extinct in 2016.



Why are reindeer numbers beginning to dwindle? Because of climate change.  The warmer temperatures in the arctic are making it impossible for the reindeer to get to their food.  As a result of the warmer temperatures, rain is falling and freezing over the already existing snow.  This causes the ground to freeze, making it more and more difficult for the reindeers to eat, thus resulting in their decreasing numbers.




We’ve known about this for a while, but the numbers only get worse.  According to a report by the Smithsonian magazine, there are roughly 7,100 individual cheetahs in the wild.  And that’s it.  The numbers of cheetahs plummeting is the result of habitat loss and hunting.


Ring-Tailed Lemur

By Alex Dunkel (Maky) - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

By Alex Dunkel (Maky) - Own work, CC BY 3.0,


The ring-tailed lemur’s population hit a huge downward spiral.  Apparently, the population dropped 95% in just 17 years!  This leaves the population at around 2000-2400 individuals, and sub-species have only about 30 individuals.  They’ve also lost much of their homes, vanishing from 15 different sites where they used to be common.


African Elephants


Though the numbers of African Elephants continue to dwindle for now (between 2007-14 the population decreased by 30%), there are steps being taken in the right direction for elephants, and rhinos, too.  If you missed it, China is ending the ivory trade by the end of 2017 (although other sources say it could take up to five years).  This is of course fantastic news for the animals, and hopefully, as a result, the numbers of elephants will start to go back up.

Bornean Orangutan


The ICUN put the Bornean Orangutan back onto the critically endangered list recently.  Their numbers have dropped 85% in the last 75 years.  This is due to the loss of their natural habitat, as people are removing the forest and wildfires spread in the area.




Indochinese Leopards


This beautiful creature has lost a lot of its range.  In fact, its range has dropped 94%.   The population seems to have dropped to around 400-1000 breeding adults.  Similarly to the giraffe situation, in which people focused on elephant numbers more and forgot about the giraffe, the leopards have been ignored because of the tigers that also are around the area.  As a result, this leopard is also going through a ‘silent extinction’.

Polar Bears


Once again, because of global warming, polar bear numbers are expected to drop a third in less than half a century’s time.  The population, at the moment, is only around 26,000.  A drop of a third of their population means that their numbers would go down to less than 9,000 individuals.


Mariah Loeber is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.