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July 25, 2017

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Scientists find rare finless porpoise pod

SHANGHAI Ocean University researchers have found a stable pod of the endangered Yangtze finless porpoise in the waters west of Chongming Island for the first time.

“We recently found about 30 Yangtze finless porpoises stably living in the waters near the Dongfeng Xisha Reservoir,” Tang Wenqiao, director of the university’s ichthyology laboratory, said yesterday.

“It’s good news for protection of the endangered finless porpoises.”

The Yangtze River subspecies of the finless porpoise is normally found only in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze and some large lakes that link to the river.

Its close cousin, the East Asian subspecies, lives in the East China Sea, the Yellow Sea and the Bohai Sea, Tang said.

Finless porpoises are seen frequently at the mouth of the Yangtze during late spring and summer, when fish are plentiful.

“People used to believe that the finless porpoises found at the mouth of the Yangtze River were all the East Asian subspecies,” Tang said. “But according to our continuous investigation over the past five years, both showed up in the area.

“But the East Asian subspecies usually don’t go to the fresh waters on the west side of the Shanghai Yangtze River Bridge, while the Yangtze River subspecies would not go over to the east side of the bridge.”

The Yangtze finless porpoise is known for its mischievous smile and has a level of intelligence comparable to that of a gorilla, the WWF says.

It is believed to be the most endangered of all finless porpoise species. After the white-flag, or baiji, dolphin was declared functionally extinct about a decade ago, finless porpoises became the only cetacean species that can be seen in the Yangtze River.

They total less than 1,000.

The Yangtze finless porpoises love living in lakes rarely influenced by human activities and river reaches with bends, bifurcations and sandbars and need good quality water, said Tang.

“The living space for finless porpoises in the Yangtze River is shrinking as there is so much shipping traffic and most deep-water areas have been occupied by shipping lanes,” he said.

A habitat in danger

“It is also difficult for them to find a habitat at the mouth of the river, where docks stand in great number with cargoes loaded and unloaded frequently all year round.”

The research team led by Tang confirmed the Dongfeng Xisha area was a habitat for the precious animal as it was remote from humans, while the environment around Chongming Island was good and its ecological environment was also being improved.

To better protect finless porpoises, Tang has submitted proposals to local authorities, suggesting the government ban fishing in the area and make the waters as a key place for fishery law inspection.

He also proposed the government deploy or hire special professionals to monitor the animals and the change of numbers and to investigate the ecology and food sources in the area.

“If we can make the area a key monitoring and protection place, or even establish a nature reserve, it will be good for the protection of Yangtze finless porpoises,” said Tang. The university is promoting knowledge and protection of the mammals among locals.


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