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Baiji (Yangtze River Dolphin)

The Baiji (Yangtze) Dolphin is a species that  is found along 1,700km from the Three Gorges to the mouth of the Yangtze River, China.

Classification: This species is the only member of this genus. The Latin, Leipo (‘left behind’) refers to the restricted distribution, whilst vexillifer means ‘to bear a banner’.

Local Names: Chinese River Dolphin; Yangtze Dolphin; Yangtze River Dolphin; Beiji; Pai C’hi; Whitefin Dolphin; Whiteflag Dolphin.

A surfacing Lipotes vexillifer (Baiji)Description: The Baiji has a very long, narrow beak, with abrupt forehead and tiny eyes set high on the sides of the head. The triangular dorsal fin has a blunt peak. They are blue-grey in colour, fading to white below. Maximum length and weight are around 2.5m and 160kg respectively.

Recognition at sea: The only other cetacean inhabiting the same area as the Baiji is the Finless Porpoise. It is easy to differenciate between the two – the Finless Porpoise has no dorsal, beak or hump, and is less shy than its cousin.

Habitat: All of the Yangtze River, among sandbars and dikes. The river is wide, open and slow moving.

Food & Feeding: Baiji feed upon a variety of fish.

Behaviour: Small groups of 3-7 are most common, with occasional groups of 10 being observed. Baiji are wary of boats and difficult to approach.

Longevity: Unknown.

Estimated Current Population: The number of Baiji dolphins fell drastically from 6,000 in the 1950s to 400 in 1984. Now only an extimated 5 animals remain. The world’s most endangered cetacean.

The Influence of Man: Baiji have to compete with humans for food within all their habitat. Fishing gear alone causes over half of dolphin deaths, with many others being caused by run-ins with boat propellers. Draining of the river as part of a land reclaim project also adds to the mortalities. A lone male, Qi Qi, is held in captivity, but his wild cousins’ future looks bleak.