Only a few weeks after our research team sadly concluded that the baiji was probably extinct, we have received news that a baiji may have been seen – and filmed! – in a side-channel of the Yangtze near the city of Tongling. Local man Zeng Yujiang spotted a “big white animal” in the river at Xuba ferry, Anhui Province, between 3:10 and 3:20 pm on August 19, and filmed it from the bank with a digital camera for several minutes. “I never saw such a big thing in the water before, so I filmed it,” he told China’s Xinhua News agency. “It was about 1,000 metres away and jumped out of the water several times.”
The footage was sent to a local TV station, and has been examined by staff from both the Tongling Yangtze Cetacean Reserve and Wuhan’s Institute of Hydrobiology, which has led research into baiji and Yangtze finless porpoises over recent decades. Professor Wang Ding from the Institute of Hydrobiology gathered together with his team to check the film footage. He cannot be 100% sure that the animal captured on the film is a baiji, he told us, because of the poor picture quality and the long distance from which it was filmed – but it is quite likely because of the movement and colour of the animal. Importantly, a finless porpoise (the other cetacean found in the Yangtze) was also captured on Zeng Yujiang’s film, and this looks much darker in colour than the white mystery animal. Wang Ding is now planning to carry out an ‘emergency’ survey with staff and students from the IHB in the Tongling area in the next few weeks, to investigate the sighting further.
Although the picture quality is not very good, the film appears to show a white animal which looks more like a baiji than anything we saw during our Yangtze survey last year. It is quite possible that a few baiji could have been missed in side-channels by our survey teams, and the Tongling area has always been recognized as one of the river’s baiji ‘hot-spots’ – the last verified sighting and photograph of a wild baiji was made in Tongling in 2002, and several other unverified baiji reports have also come from this river section over the past few years.
It is absolutely imperative that further survey work is carried out in the Tongling region over the next few months, to try and find out if any baiji still survive in this part of the river. We can’t stress the urgency of this enough – because maybe, just maybe, there is still hope for the goddess of the Yangtze. This time, if any baiji are found, we have to act fast to save them. This is a conservation priority – and we need your support.
If you want to donate to help support this crucial survey work, please click here.