Yangtze porpoise down to 1,000 animals in world’s most polluted river

During a 44-day survey, experts estimated 1,000 Yangtze finless river porpoises (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis) inhabited the river and adjoining lakes, down from around 2,000 in 2006. The ecology of China’s Yangtze River has been polluted by the Three Gorges Dam, ship traffic, electrofishing, and overfishing, making it arguably the world’s dirtiest major river.

The experts believe that finless porpoises have become increasingly scattered by shipping traffic, dams, and habitat loss.

Against all these problems, conservationists are struggling to keep any of these species around. Meanwhile, Li Lifeng, the head of WWF’s freshwater programs, told Australia Network News that conservation efforts in China are “half-hearted.”

Neophocaena phocaenoides, Finless Porpoise, captive. Research Centre for Aquatic Biodiversity and Resource Conservation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Photo courtesy of WWF.

In the meantime, China appears to be moving ahead with another massive hydroelectric project, the Xiaonanhai Dam, which environmentalists say will kill many of the Yangtze’s distinct species. If built the dam will decimate the river’s only fish reserve, home to 180 species, including the finless porpoise, the Chinese sturgeon, and possibly the world’s last Chinese paddlefish. If nothing changes, in a few decades the Yangtze will likely lose the bulk of its big species.

The upper Yangtze river in Tibetan Yunnan, southern China. Photo by Rhett Butler.
The upper Yangtze river in Tibetan Yunnan, southern China. Photo by Rhett Butler.
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