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 FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of all 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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8621909

By Alex Dunkel (Maky) - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8621909


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 FemSTEM.com. She studies English and is a huge fan of things STEM.  Find her on Twitter.