Lipotes vexillifer Miller, 1918
Baiji, Yangtze River dolphin, Chinese river dolphin, Changjiang dolphin, Chinese Lake dolphin, Whitefin dolphin, White flag dolphin, White-flag dolphin
Taxonomy & Nomenclature
Last record: 2002 (captive animal); August 2007 (unconfirmed video recording)
IUCN status: Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)
Retroposon anaysis carried out by (Nikaido et. al. 2001) found that the common ancestor of Lipotes vexillifer and the Amazon-La Plata dolphin lineage split some 21.5mya, give or take 4.6 million years. Therefore the extinction of the Baiji meant that we also lost almost 20 million years of evolution, which just compounds the loss of such a unique creature even further.
Qi Qi, the most famous individual was found stranded in 1980. He was then taken to the aquarium of the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where he lived for 22 years. Much of what we know of the Baiji derives from the study of this one individual, including their longevity. Baiji's could therefore live in excess of 22 years (he was already a significant size when he was captured). However, this unfortunately does not have much bearing upon their longevity in the wild since it is well know that captive conditions are usually better than the wild, and hence captive individuals of most species tend to outlive their wild counterparts. Nonetheless we know that it is at least possible for Baiji's to live for more than two decades.
But this has more immediate and significant implications. There is a well known general correlation between a whole suite of characteristics of an organism which alter in equal measure. Species whose individuals have longer life spans tend to have fewer offspring, mature later, have slower metabolisms etc. A species like the Baiji which [i]may[/i] have lived for twenty years in the wild would not have stood much of a chance of survival given the high death toll caused both directly and indirectly as a result of human alteration of its habitat, and increasing traffic along the Yangtze rivers waterways. It has been estimated that the entire population of Baiji in the late 1970s/early 1980s was only 300-400 individuals. And so given the high death toll and the slow breeding of the species it is not at all surprising, though it is sad beyond words, that the species went extinct so fast: possibly 400 individuals in 1980 to almost none post-2000!
Qiantang River (incl. Fuchun River) & Yangtze River (incl. Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake), China (Turvey, 2008)
Biology & Ecology
38 photos of living or recently deceased Baiji: https://otlibrary.com/chinese-river-dolphin/
Original scientific description:
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