Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on June 28, 2008
Not sure what concerns me more: the sad, seemingly hopeless plight of the Yangtze River Porpose or the fact that in China, this beautiful animal is referred to as the “river pig”.
Obviously, I’m more concerned about the former. Especially after reading a study published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, which reveals that “the Yangtze River Porpoise, the only freshwater finless porpoise in existence, is in danger of becoming extinct”. The porpoise, which lives in the mid to lower reaches of the Yangtze and in the Poyang and Dongting lakes, is feared to soon suffer the same fate as the “baiji” or Yangtze River Dolphin. The cause of the encroaching extinction can be attributed to high concentrations of man-made chemicals found in the tissue samples of this aquatic mammal.
Man-made chemicals bringing about the extinction of a species? Nothing new, unfortunately. But the alarming rate at which this is occurring is unusual — and not in a good way.
The porpoise population has been decreasing by approximately 7.3% each year: “In the early 1990s, the population was surveyed at nearly 2,700. A 2006 survey estimated a maximum total population of 1,500. The porpoise is projected to become extinct in 24 to 94 years, unless conservation measures are taken”. The Yangtze River’s basin ecosystem suffers from shipping, sand dredging and over-fishing. And of course, the pollution.
The current study is the first to examine the impacts of pollutants on the porpoise. “Researchers collected five stranded Yangtze finless porpoises between 1998 and 2004 and sampled organs to study accumulated levels and preliminary effects of several contaminants including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), and polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs).”
The findings did indicate that contamination played a role in the porpoise’s ever decreasing numbers. Dongting lake is subject to a whopping “800 million tons of wastewater per year” — primarily chemical waste from agriculture and industry. Other factors include “fishing, transportation and dam construction”. Calves exposed to the contaminants at the “critical developmental stages” are more affected than are adults.
What the study didn’t need to reveal (because we knew this already) was that reducing the pollution will go a great way to the survival of the species. Here’s to hoping China cleans up their act, so that the real “river pigs” can thrive. And maybe to celebrate the survival of the species, they’ll even change its name.
You can read the entire study here.