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Noble Porpoise


In 2007, scientists conducted a six-week search of the Yangtze River, hoping to spot Chinese river dolphins. However, the results were disappointing: It appeared likely that the animal was already extinct. If this is true, the Chinese river dolphin became the first porpoise subspecies to go extinct due to human activity. The news stirred up great concern for every animal living along the Yangtze River. Unfortunately, the Yangtze finless porpoise, another endangered porpoise subspecies nicknamed “ugly cousin of the Chinese river dolphin,” is also on the verge of extinction.

The Yangtze, ranked as the world’s third longest river, features rich biological diversity. Of the 350 species of fish that call the river home, 112 aren’t found elsewhere, including some extremely rare species. Previously, the river was considered a paradise for a variety of porpoises. However, increasing human activity in the area left less and less room for the aquatic mammals to survive. For instance, the Yangtze finless porpoise population has dropped substantially, and now they can only be found in a few sections of the river in addition to Dongting and Poyang Lakes. Beginning in 2005, researchers from the Institute of Hydrobiology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) spent two years monitoring wild Yangtze finless porpoises in Poyang Lake. They concluded that due to its abundant food resources and favorable environment, the section of the Yangtze from the lake mouth to Laoyemiao offers a suitable breeding habitat for more than 400 Yangtze finless porpoises, about one third of the surviving total. Seemingly, the section has become the last refuge for the endangered animal.

Compared with the Chinese river dolphin that evolved little since remote antiquity, the Yangtze finless porpoise has a greater ability to adapt to a changing environment. A smart animal, it boasts an intelligence level comparable to sea dolphins or jungle apes. Typically, an adult Yangtze finless porpoise measures 120-190 centimeters in length and weighs 100-220 kilograms. Although as mammals, they breathe with lungs like humans, they remain energetic and showy swimmers. Lucky viewers can spot them performing acrobatics in the Yangtze River, leaping from the water, spraying water through their noses, and standing on their tails.

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