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December 11, 2012

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Survey finding rapid decline in Yangtze porpoise

AN endangered porpoise appears to be declining quickly in the Yangtze River, according to partial results of an ongoing scientific survey.

The numbers of the finless porpoise - a subspecies known as the freshwater dolphin or "Yangtze cowfish" - have dropped 60 percent since 2006 based on a survey of a section of the river in November, said Wang Kexiong, an associate researcher with the Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Only 13 finless porpoises have been spotted during the survey.

Experts say there are only about 1,000 finless porpoises left, making them rarer than the giant panda. Scientists have estimated that the freshwater mammal's population has been shrinking at an annual rate of more than 5 percent.

The finless porpoise lives exclusively in the Yangtze River and the Poyang and Dongting lakes, which are both linked to the waterway.

"Judging from the survey results, the living conditions of finless porpoises are not good," said Wang, who is also deputy director of the survey team.

Hunting, development and pollution may force the subspecies to the brink of extinction within five years unless it receives proper protection, scientists have said.

Scientists will arrive in Shanghai tomorrow as part of the 40-day survey, which began in the river at the central Chinese city of Wuhan on November 11. The survey team, consisting of researchers from the Ministry of Agriculture, the CAS and the World Wildlife Fund, aims to evaluate the number, distribution, living conditions and causes of decline of the porpoise to work out policies and measures to protect the species, Wang said.

The Ministry of Agriculture has appealed to the State Council, asking the Cabinet to list the animal under first-grade protection at the national level.


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