for National Geographic News
This is the third installment in a series on the Megafishes Project. Join National Geographic News on the trail with project leader Zeb Hogan as he tracks down the world's largest freshwater fishes.
It's known as the "mother species" and the "panda under the water."
Yet the nickname that most aptly describes the Chinese sturgeon, a giant fish that's been around since the age of the dinosaurs, may be "living fossil."
Now conservationists are locked in a race against time to save this ancient river titan from extinction.
Adult sturgeons, which can measure up to 4 meters (13 feet) in length and weigh 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms), migrate from the East China Sea into the Yangtze River to spawn (see China map).
But the Yangtze's deteriorating environment and increased shipping traffic have taken their toll on the mammoth fish.
Thirty years ago there were 2,000 spawning Chinese sturgeons in the Yangtze River every year. Now that number is down to several hundred.
There may be only a thousand of the animals left in the river, said Wei Qiwei, a lead researcher at the Yangtze River Fisheries Research Institute in Jingzhou
Wei and other scientists hope to reverse the trend by breeding sturgeons in captivity and putting them back into the river before the species disappears the wild.
"The Chinese sturgeon is very precious to us," Wei said. "I don't want it to disappear on my watch."
Wei's institute operates a breeding base tucked into a sleepy farming community outside Jingzhou.
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