The Yangtze finless porpoise is one of two large marine mammals that used to ply China's longest river.
It has outlived the now extinct Yangtze river dolphin, which was last seen in 2007.
Just 1,600 to 1,800 of the finless porpoises were counted in 2006 along the middle Yangtze and in two lakes. A population of the porpoise that has been protected in one of the Yangtze's oxbow lakes—remnants of where the river used to run—has grown by three or four calves a year.
To help the animals, local governments open sluice gates at 40 lakes along the Yangtze, returning, to some degree, the seasonal flow of the river and the dolphin to a larger stretch of its original habitat, said Lifeng Li, director of freshwater programs at WWF.
River dolphins, many elusive, are the canaries in the coal mine of the planet’s freshwater ecosystems, according to WWF. The threats facing dolphins are the same threats facing people, the environmental nonprofit's new report states.
“Unsustainable fishing practices both harm dolphins and erode the basis of fishermen’s livelihoods; toxic chemicals used in agriculture and mining affect the health of people and dolphins alike; and loss of natural river flows and habitats decreases the productivity of the freshwater ecosystems that sustain both human societies and river dolphins.”