Lipotes vexillifer
Other names: 
  • Yangtze River dolphin
  • Changjiang dolphin
  • White Flag dolphin
  • Chinese lake dolphin
Maximum length: 
  • Male: 2.3m
  • Female: 2.6m
  • Calf: 0.91m
Maximum weight: 
  • Male: Unknown
  • Female: 167 kg
  • Calf: Unknown
  • Freshwater fish
Estimated population: 
IUCN Listing: 
CITES Appendix: 
CMS Appendix: 
Not Listed

The baiji has the unenviable honour of being the first species of cetacean to have become extinct as a result of human activity. The baiji has been known to have been in serious decline since the mid-1900s and, after a 6-week expedition in 2006 covering the entire known range of the baiji failed to record a single animal, it is now considered to be ‘functionally extinct' – meaning that although there may be a few individuals left in the wild there are most certainly not enough to sustain a healthy population.


The baiji was similar in appearance to other species of river dolphin with a stocky body, a long narrow beak that is slightly upturned, and a mouthline that curves upwards. It had a rounded melon with an abrupt forehead and tiny eyes that were set higher up on the head than in other species of dolphin. Unlike the South Asian River dolphin which is functionally blind, the baiji was able to see, although its eyesight was poor. Colouration was generally bluish grey on the back and greyish white underneath, with pale patches on the side of the face and tailstock. The dorsal fin was low and triangular and set upon a wide base. It was difficult to confuse the baiji with any other species as the only other cetacean to be found in its range, the finless porpoise, is much smaller, lacks a dorsal fin and a distinctive beak and is darker in colour.


The baiji was not a demonstrative species and was known to be much more active at night. They were typically found alone or in groups of six or so around shallow sandbanks and where tributaries join rivers. They were quiet, shy, and difficult to approach and were known to actively avoid vessels. They have been recorded swimming erratically, rapidly changing direction and swimming on their back or side, whilst at other times they were seen to swim very slowly. The blow was high-pitched and sounded like a sneeze, very similar to that of the Yangtze finless porpoise (N. a. asiaeorientalis) with whom they used to sometimes be seen associating.


The range of the baiji formerly extended along the middle and lower Yangtze River, but recent developments severely restricted its range and, since the 1990s, it was only found downstream of the Dongting Lake. Despite being declared a national treasure of China and being protected since 1975, the baiji continued to be incidentally exploited. The major threat to these animals was recognised as incidental mortality as a result of fishing practices, more specifically rolling hooks and electric fishing. The baiji has also been adversely impacted by vessel strikes, habitat destruction, pollution, industrial development, and global warming. The IUCN classifies the baiji as Critically Endangered although there may only be a handful of individuals left in the wild and it is anticipated that this classification will soon be changed to Extinct.

Distribution map: