The story goes that someone filmed one of the animals jumping out of the water.
This reminded me of something from the book ‘Last Chance To See’ by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine who is a well-respected zoologist who usually works for BBC radio 4.
In this passage I am about to transcribe they are in China looking for the baiji in the 1980’s. They are talking about the difficulty of actually getting to see one in the Yangtze river. Douglas Adams is narrating…
Every momentary black shadow of a dancing wave looks for an instant like what you want it to look like and I did not even have a good mental picture of what to look for.
“Do you know how long they surface for?”, I asked Mark.
“It isn’t good news, the dolphins ‘melon’ or forehead breaks the surface first as it blows, then its small dorsal fin comes up and then it plunges back down again”.
“How long does that take?”
“Less than a second”.
I digested this.
“I don’t think we’re going to see one are we?”
“Well, we might well see a finless porpoise” he said.
“They are not as rare as the dolphins are they?” I said.
“Well, they are certainly endangered in the Yangtse. There are thought to be about 400 of them, they are having the same problems here but you would also find them in the coastal waters off china and as far west as Pakistan so they are not in such absolute danger as a species. They can see much better than the baiji which suggests that they are relative newcomers. Look! There’s one, finless porpoise!”
I was just in time to see a shape fall back into the water, then it was gone…
“How did you know it was a finless porpoise?” I asked, quite impressed by this.
“Two things really. First we could actually see it – it came right out of the water, finless porpoises do that – the baiji doesn’t”.
“You mean, if you can actually get to see it, it must be a finless porpoise?”
“Mmm, more or less, yeah”.
“Well, what’s the other reason?”
“Well, it hadn’t got a fin.”
Now, I have been trying to find the footage of the reported sighting but the only thing I could find was this 15 second clip from BBC news. Although I am by no means an expert, the first clip they use, though it is a dolphin and not a finless porpoise (you can tell by the shape of the mouth/nose – look at the above pictures) it doesn’t appear to be from the Yangtse, which is turbid. There were previously baiji in captivity.
The second clip seems to be random people on a boat in the Yangtse with no pictures of the dolphins. The third seems to be from the same thing as the first.
The final one could easily be a finless porpoise. It’s too difficult to tell.
Even if it is a baiji, and even if it is in the Yangtse, and I dearly hope it is. One or two animals does not make a breeding population and the only change in its status is from extinct to about to be extinct.
 This is at odds with what Wang Ding was quoted as saying on the BBC – “Wang Ding, also from the Institute of Hydrobiology and a leading authority on the species, said that the sighting could not be confirmed 100% because of the distance, but that it looked and acted like a baiji”
It is also at odds with what the local who spotted the creature said “It was about 1,000 metres away and jumped out of the water several times.”