|One of the 10 dead river dolphins discovered near Yueyang City, Hunan Province, since March, is frozen for further investigation. (Photo: Shanghai Daily)
By Dong Zhen
BEIJING, April 28 (Xinhuanet) -- When the "bai ji", or white Yangtze River dolphin, was declared functionally extinct in 2007, the last surviving mammal in the Yangtze River became the finless porpoise (jiang tun), fondly known as the river pig because of its rotund appearance.
Now the river pig, once revered as a river god and predictor of weather and guide to good fishing, is on the verge of extinction.
The urgency of the problem has been highlighted by the discovery of 10 dead mammals, commonly called river dolphins, since March 3 in Dongting Lake, according to the Fishery Affairs Management Station (FAMS) of the Animal Husbandry and Aquatic Products Bureau of Hunan's Yueyang City.
Another six have been reported dead since the beginning of this year in east China's Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province, according to the provincial fishery bureau.
The discovery and disturbing photos of dead mammals, including an unborn fetus, caused public indignation and demands for the government to act. Last weekend the provincial government said it would relocate the dolphins to a safe part of the lake, China's second largest.
No one knows when that will begin and time is running out for the dolphins.
Today only around a thousand live in the Yangtze River basin, including around 80 in Dongting Lake and some in Poyang Lake, China's largest freshwater lake, in Jiangxi Province. Chinese scientists say they will be extinct in around 15 years, decreasing by 5-6 percent a year.
Initial postmortem findings indicated that the animals had not eaten in a long time, and at least two were starving, signaling habitat damage and lack of food. One female was pregnant and one animal had been severely injured by a boat's propeller.
The common causes of endangerment are human activity: fishing with dynamite and electric current, draining of habitat, dredging, river traffic, and pollution that includes toxic industrial discharge.