Monday, December 18, 2006

Chinese River Dolphin Goes Extinct

From The New York Times:
The first species to be erased from this planet’s great and ancient Order of Cetaceans in modern times is not one of the charismatic sea mammals that have long been the focus of conservation campaigns, like the sperm whale or bottlenose dolphin.

It appears to be the baiji, a white, nearly blind denizen of the Yangtze River in China.

On Wednesday, an expedition in search of any baiji, run by Chinese biologists and, a Swiss foundation, ended empty-handed after six weeks of patrolling its onetime waters in the middle and lower stretches of the river, the baiji’s only known habitat.

The Yangtze, Asia’s longest waterway and thought to be akin to the Amazon long ago in its biological richness, now has a dominant species: the 400 million (and counting) people busily plying its waters and industrializing its banks.

For some 20 million years, the baiji, also called the white-flag dolphin, frequented the Yangtze’s sandy shallows, using sonar to catch fish in the silty flow.

In the last few decades, the dolphin’s numbers plunged as rapidly as the Chinese economy surged. The Yangtze’s sandy shallows, which the baiji frequented, have largely been dredged for shipping.

The baiji sought fish that have been netted or driven from the river by pollution. And its sonar may have been disrupted by the propeller noise from boats above. A 1997 survey counted 13 baiji in the river. None of the dolphins survive in captivity.

In a telephone interview from Wuhan, China, August Pfluger, the founder of, said it was a shame that more attention had not shifted from the oceans’ more abundant cetaceans to the plight of those that live in rivers and are now essentially trapped, unable to escape human activity.

On Wednesday, Mr. Pfluger distributed a news release concluding that the baiji was “functionally extinct.” (Decades must pass before international scientific organizations take the formal step of declaring it officially extinct.)

The name of the document was, simply, “The End.”

This is extraordinarily sad; river dolphins are among the world’s oddest and coolest creatures. It’s one thing to lose some species of cave cricket or intestinal worm; it’s another to lose a big and locally beloved animal – especially one so prominent in folklore. Chinese once viewed the baiji as the reincarnation of a princess who refused to marry a man she did not love and was drowned by her father for shaming the family. The animal was also worshipped as the goddess of the river, and was thought to be able to predict bad weather.

The historical relationship between the environmental movement and left-wing politics continues to be puzzling. Communist and socialist governments like those of China and Eastern Europe have the worst of all possible records in terms of environmental protection and wildlife conservation – while prosperous, capitalist countries take the lead in endangered species recovery. The cooption of the environmental movement by lefties in the West has done more to undermine its credibility and popular acceptance than anything else they could have done. Conservation, after all, should naturally be a conservative issue; the failure of the conservative movement to embrace and proclaim a serious and realistic conservation ethic has been a blot on our record. It is a tragedy all the way around. Protecting the bald eagle has been made the equivalent of protecting the paarsitic Guinea worm by leftover Bolsheviks who want to use the environmental issue to control people and restrict capitalism. At the same time, it has been accepted as the equivalent by those who should be at the forefront of preserving their children’s natural heritage.

Let's get with the program. I have enough things to cringe about before God at the Great White Throne Judgment without having to explain what happened to His dolphins.