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Saving Chinese freshwater dolphins

2014-10-24 09:16 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

Professor Yu Daoping knows the ins and outs of the Yangtze river dolphin, having dissected more than 200 corpses of the finless porpoise over the last 20 years.

When not teaching university, he spends his time as the chief consultant for the newly set-up Xijiang River Finless Porpoise Rescue Center in Anqing city, Anhui Province, tracking the cause of death among the 25-million-year old species.

"Dead dolphins salvaged along the Yangtze River had no food in their stomach, and scars from wounds covered their bodies," he said of one of the most recent incidents.

He said starvation and injuries by motor rotor blades on vessels are the main lethal factors threatening the endangered dolphin's survival.

The Anqing Fishery Bureau recently transported five wounded Yangtze River finless porpoise found this year to Xijiang River, a 10-km long old waterway section of Yangtze, and helped establish the rescue center.

Friday will coincide with the International Freshwater Dolphin Day. The day set in 2010 for the preservation of the freshwater mammal was also claimed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) as a sad reminder of the recently lost Yangtze white-finned dolphin, known in Chinese as Baiji Dolphin, which is bigger than the finless porpoise.

As the Yangtze, the longest river in China, has been turned into a busy shipping waterway and a hydrological power source for hundreds of reservoirs, animal activists warned the finless porpoises may die out within 10 to 15 years, if tough measures are not taken.

There are only about 1,040 finless porpoises in the Yangtze and two lakes linked to the waterway, according to a survey in 2012 by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and WWF. However, they are considered "functionally extinct", because water dams and shipping have blocked their travel and the population is too small for the species to reproduce.

Jiang Zeqiu, an official with the Anqing Fishery Bureau, said the city authority hoped to turn Xijiang River into a haven to rehabilitate the dolphin population.

However, the government-funded rescue center still faces an uncertain future.

Yu explained that the center is not yet a formal government establishment, which can receive stable government financing and offer employment. Only two people dispatched by the Anqing Fishery Bureau currently manage the center's work. But it has teamed up with the Research Institute of Freshwater Ecology of the Anqing Normal Institute to carry out the protection work.

Similar rescue centers have also been set up in Yangtze River sections in Zhenjiang and Nanjiang cities in east China's Jiangsu Province and Yueyang City in central Hunan Province.

On Oct. 14, the Ministry of Agriculture issued a Yangtze finless porpoise protection notice urging local authorities to implement the most restrictive protection measures possible for the finless dolphin.

Sources with the agriculture authorities said rescuers are expected to displace dolphins to safe havens whenever the mammal is found and rescued in the wild.

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