Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chinese river dolphins swim in better protected waters

The Chinese government, which has done quite a lot for the Yangtze river’s endangered freshwater dolphins, last week decided it needed to do more.The key initiative of the new Yangtze Dolphin Network is to connect existing reserves established for the Baiji dolphin, the world's most endangered member of the whale family, and the finless porpoise.

The network was initiated by the aquatic and wildlife protection office of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and is funded by donors including WWF-China.

«WWF started working on Yangtze dolphin conservation as early as 2002 and I am very happy to join the Yangtze Dolphin Network today,» said Dr. Wang Limin, WWF-China’s deputy director of conservation operations. «It is of big significance to dolphin protection efforts in China and around the world.»

Human activities such as illegal fishing, pollution and shipping have hit the Baiji dolphin and finless porpoise hard, causing their numbers to dramatically decline over the last few years.

During a Yangtze Freshwater dolphin expedition in 2006 no Baiji dolphins were found, while the population of the finless porpoise has dropped to an estimated 1,800, half the number found in the 1990s.

«It is necessary to integrate each nature reserve to effectively protect the Baiji dolphin and finless porpoise,» said Fan Xiangguo, director of aquatic wildlife protection at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Over the past few decades the Chinese government has made considerable efforts to protect the freshwater dolphin by setting up nature reserves. The Yangtze Dolphin Network includes six nature reserves and two monitoring sites.

«Dolphins are the indicator species of river health,» said Li Lifeng, Freshwater Programme Director, WWF International.

«If they are gone, the river will not be able to support human development. The Yangtze Dolphin Network is a great step towards protecting the river for both species and people.»

The network was established in Xingzikou, Jiangxi province, on September 24, with the launch ceremony followed by two days of dolphin monitoring and rescue training, as well as one day of field monitoring practice.

Apart from the Yangtze, river dolphins are found in South America's Amazon, India's Ganges and Pakistan's Indus rivers as well as a few locations in south and south-east Asia.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"