baiji.jpgIt is being widely reported that the Baiji is not extinct as had been previously reported.

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?”

0470.jpgMark looked depressed. With a sigh he opened a bottle of baiji beer and took a rather complicated swig at it so as not to take his eyes off the water.

“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”.[1]

“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.

[1] 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.”


Filed under animals, bbc, conservation, dolphins, douglas adams, extinction, habitat, mammal, marine, nature, river, Uncategorized, wildlife


  1. Hay.
    my name is amanda, i am a student and i have to do a report on one endangered species, i thought this would be a great time to show every one in my class how smart i am when it comes to animals, i never exactly realized that an animal could be so less numbered…its a very beautfiul animal, i hope one day there will be more of them. Anyways, i was wondering that if i ened up doing my project on the baiji, that you could give me some facts on the species…if not, i understand…thank you!

  2. Jody

    This dolphin is soooooooo cool. I read about the Baiji in Dolphin Dairies .I have never heard of the Baiji. I think it was the funkiest dolphin I ‘ve ever seen. I like funky .It stands out,kind of like me. It is now my favorite dolphin.

  3. Laura Quach

    Hi my name is Laura, and i am a high school student that is doing a reaserch project on these amazing animals. I have some questions that i would like to ask, so if you could please contact me i would greatly appreciate it.

  4. Anonymous

    I went to marine land and like omg i saww all these olphines doing like these tricks and stuff then like went up on they’re like fin or whatever and they like moved around it was sick and there was like these seals anbd these like fat lazy walrusses and all they did was come out and wave and they moved really slow, Kinda like my core Teacher.

  5. Hannah (from England)

    River dolphins are so interesting to me, especially the pink river dolphins that you get in the Amazon, so I was very upset when I heard a close relative of them, the Yangtze river dolphin, went extinct, so I’m trying to learn more about river dolphins and the threats they face. If you have any more information about these wonderful creatures I really would apreciate it.

  6. Hannah, find a copy of Ty Montgomery’s book “Journey of the Pink Dolphins” to read – I’m sure you’ll like it!

  7. Sydney

    There’s an amazing book called Witness to Extinction: How We Failoed to Save the Yangtze River Dolphin by Samuel Turvey. I reccommend it to anyone who cares about endangered animals–it will certainly show you how NOT to go about trying “save” them as the Chinese government did.

  8. asorvia

    Is the river dolphin Lipotes vexilifer completely extinct, or only so in the wild?

    • Anonymous

      The last captive dolphin Qi Qi died in 2002 after 22 years in a dolphinarium near Wuhan. It had been injured with hooks and he was saved. A dolphin was moved to an oxbow lake in the Yangtze in early 2006. A female baiji that they hoped would breed with it was found and put in the oxbow lake, but they vanished in a flood and were probably pulled back into the riiver, so hopefuly they may still be alive

  9. unknown...

    we need to save these animals hat are in danger!!!!

    • Hey!!! This is Miranda and i was wondering if this dolophin is extinct because i went to some web sits and it said they were and i have to do a report on extinct plants or animals so if anyone can help me out i would be very thinkfull…

      Thanks again,

  10. Great blog entry about the baiji. Regardless of whether researchers observe an animal here or there, the classification of the baiji is ‘functionally extinct’, which means that the population is reduced to such low numbers that recovery to viable population levels is likely to be impossible.’ That doesn’t mean that there aren’t *any* animals left. The ‘functionally’ extinct designation applies to the population as a whole and the future of the species in general. So as tragic as it sounds, the occasional confirmation of a baiji will likely be meaningless, from an evolutionary and scientific perspective. Though it *will* make seeing one a very signficant event, from the observer’s perspective, no doubt.

    Sad, yes. But we have learned some lessons. We have a second chance at redemption with the vaquita, which *IS* possible to save. Check out or the American Cetacean Society’s website at:

    Viva Vaquita!

    Cheryl McCormick, Ph.D.
    Executive Director
    American Cetacean Society
    San Pedro, CA

  11. This really is the 4th blog, of your blog I personally read through.
    However I enjoy this specific 1, “SLOW DOWN
    – THE BAIJI IS NOT SAVED | Exit Stage Right”
    the most. Thanks ,Charline

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