I first read about the Baiji dolphin, nicknamed the "Goddess of the Yangtze", in Douglas Adams' book "Last Chance to See" a couple of years ago. The book, published in 1990, follows Mr. Adams and a zoologist named Mark Carwardine as they seek out five or six different endangered species. It's hilariously written, as everything else by Douglas Adams is, but it is also incredibly sad, as while Adams shares several amusing stories of his fish-out-of-water experiences in foreign countries, he also shines a floodlight on the effects of human civilization on the wild.
I've been re-reading Last Chance to See for the past week or so, and have such a deep appreciation for Douglas Adams for what he accomplishes with it. He had such a very honest way of looking at things. I admit that given the graveness of the subject matter, I tend to prefer focusing on the lighter bits in the book, as my friends and coworkers can attest to after being inundated with facts about my favourite creature, and quotes and anecdotes from the writer that I find particularily funny. But, it becomes really hard to look at things with any sort of humour when I come to the chapter about the Baiji. This creature's story is so heart-breaking that I can hardly bear it, so I'm not going to go into detail.
Just now, as I've done with the other birds and animals that are featured in the book, I looked up the Baiji to see how it is doing. It has been 19 years since Last Chance to See was published, and in it Douglas Adams describes the conservation efforts happening to save the Baiji from becoming extinct. Since my favourite fat and flightless parrot is doing a little better now than it was, with a population that has more than doubled in the last two decades, I had high hopes.
Unfortunately, I'm now a wee bit devestated as in 2006 the Baiji was declared functionally extinct after a six-week search by scientists resulted in no signs of any surviving dolphins. The last confirmed sighting of one was in 2002. Though there is some footage of what might be a Baiji was recorded in 2007, according to the definition of 'functional extinction', there is no hope for the species. No hope.
Worst of all, according to what I read, the extinction of the Baiji is the first of a well-studied cetacean species to be directly attributable to human influence. Which really, really breaks my heart.