Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Creature Feature: Baiji (Yangtze River Dolphin)

Speaking of Chinese animals in danger...

Yes, that is a dolphin. Didn't know that China had dolphins, did you? These are not the same dolphins that you see in aquarium and zoo shows; Yangtze River Dolphins (Lipotes vexillifer), AKA Baiji or "Goddess of the Yangtze," are native only to the Yangtze River in China.

Or, well, they were.

The Yangtze River Dolphin is the most recent marine mammal extinction to date: the Japanese Sea Lion went extinct in the 1950's and this dolphin went extinct in 2006. The last recorded living specimen died in 2002, and no new wild specimens have been confirmed. Not only is the Baiji one of the most recent mammals to go extinct, it is the first well-recorded cetacean to ever go extinct.

How the hell did that happen? Chinese medicine? Well, no, but the dolphin has a story in Chinese mythology. The legend goes that the Baiji is the reincarnation of a woman who refused her arranged marriage and was drowned because of it; the Baiji has been considered prosperous ever since. It was only eaten after the tradition of calling the dolphin a goddess wore off. Somewhere, a tiger is jealous.

The communist movement called the Great Leap Forward (1958-61) spurred China to not only abandon their traditions in favor of communism, but also encouraged anything in the name of modernization. The dolphin's river habitat was polluted and electric fishing was encouraged. Ship engines interfered with the dolphin's sonar (which was even more necessary than for other dolphins; the Baiji was almost blind). The Three Gorges Dam, a dam spanning the Yangtze River, was the final nail in the coffin. There are still some unconfirmed sightings, but by and large, this dolphin is considered dead, dead, dead.

Fail indeed. For once, traditional beliefs were PROTECTING an animal.

See? Communism does not work. Communists killed a dolphin.

1 comment:

  1. Where did you find info about the Yangtze River goddess myth?