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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

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Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

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Pilot whales pooing © Christopher Swann

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A spinner dolphin leaping © Andrew Sutton/Eco2

Head in a spin – my incredible spinner dolphin encounter

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Sperm whale (physeter macrocephalus) Gulf of California. The tail of a sperm whale.

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Almost two-thirds of the ocean, or 95% of the habitable space on Earth, are sloshing...
WDC team at UN Ocean conference

Give the ocean a chance – our message from the UN Ocean Conference

I'm looking out over the River Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, reflecting on the astounding resilience...

Number of species of cetacean now extinct 2 (?) – China 0

Despite being declared a Chinese “national treasure” and being protected since 1975, the world looked on in sorrow when the baiji (otherwise known as the Yangtze river dolphin) was declared extinct in 2007. The baiji, the first species of cetacean to become extinct at the hands of mankind but sadly, very likely not the last. 

With the baiji gone, only one species of cetacean is now found in the Yangtze River, the finless porpoise. Although currently listed as a sub-species of the narrow-ridged finless porpoise, the Yangtze finless porpoise (N. a. asiaeorientalis) is the only freshwater porpoise in the world and some scientists believe it should in fact be considered a species in its own right. 

As with the baiji, the major threats facing these animals are incidental mortality in fishing gear, vessel strikes, pollution and industrial development, and as with the baiji, unless immediate action is taken by the Chinese Government, they too will become extinct before long.

In recent years there has been a massive and rapid decline in their number, a crash of approximately 52% between 1991 and 2006, and unfortunately the steady decline is continuing, which has led the IUCN to upgrade the Yangtze finless porpoise to Critically Endangered – one step away from extinct.

What makes this even more depressing is that in the years that China have sat back and watched their endemic wild species disappear and decline, dolphinariums have increased at an alarming rate. In the past 8 years, 39 marine parks have opened their doors, and between them they have over 315 animals in captivity – 72 beluga whales and 243 other individuals of various dolphin and porpoise species – the majority of which have been taken from the wild, ripped from their families to entertain the very people who did nothing to save their wild counterparts.

And if that’s not bad enough – some are citing that the only way to “save” the Yangtze finless porpoise will be to remove them from the wild and place them in captive breeding facilities. A very sad state of affairs as you can almost guarantee that they will never see the wild again – and especially not if China don’t take steps to clean up their existing habitat and reduce the threats they face.

How many more species need to go extinct before Governments wake up and realise that steps need to be taken, and now, or we’ll continue to lose species after species. New zealand are you listening? Will the New Zealand dolphin (includes both the Hector’s and Maui’s dolphin) be next?