Aug 29, 2007
BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- A Chinese man has videotaped a large white animal swimming in the Yangtze river which experts say is a dolphin species unique to China and feared extinct, the official Xinhua agency reported on Wednesday.
The last confirmed sighting of the long-beaked, nearly blind, baiji was in 2004. After an international team failed to find a single dolphin on a six-week expedition last year the species was classified as critically endangered and possibly extinct.
But the video from central Anhui province may renew slender hopes for the survival of the creatures also known as white-flag dolphins and traditionally considered a deity by local people.
"I never saw such a big thing in the water before, so I filmed it," dolphin-spotter Zeng Yujiang told Xinhua. "It was about 1,000 meters (yards) away and jumped out of the water several times."
Wang Kexiong, of the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said experts at the institute had confirmed the footage was of a baiji.
The report did not say if there were any plans to try and locate the dolphin again, or try and protect it from the river hazards -- ranging from pollution and aggressive fishing to heavy shipping traffic -- that originally decimated the species.
In the late 1970s, scientists believed several hundred baiji were still alive, but by 1997 a survey listed just 13 sightings. Found only in the Yangtze river, it is related to freshwater species found in the Mekong, Indus, Ganges and Amazon rivers.
The government has set up a reserve in a lake in central Hubei province but failed to find any baiji to put in it. The last captive dolphin, Qi Qi, died in 2002