A scientific survey on the Yangtze River’s endangered finless porpoises was launched on November 10th to record their numbers. Supported by WWF-China under the HSBC Water Programme and local foundations in the province, the survey is being led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Hydrobiology and it’s the third to be undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture since 2006 (the previous surveys were held in 2006 and 2012).

The population of the finless porpoise has declined by 13.7 per cent over the past six years. The 2012 survey found 1,045 porpoises in the river - about half the number researchers calculated in 2006.

Water pollution, environmental degradation and an inefficient food chain - the result of illegal and unregulated fishing activities - are thought to be the reason for the dramatic decline of the species.

The survey will cover waters along the middle and lower stretches of the Yangtze and its two connecting lakes - Poyang and Dongting.

According to Hao Yujiang, a researcher at the institute who is in charge of the work, the survey will calculate the population and distribution of the finless porpoise and evaluate the environment in which they live. The outcomes will be used to help the government determine key protection areas and take targeted protection measures.

The 3,400km round trip will last about 40 days, and involve 32 members and volunteers from research institutes and NGOs.

Surveys along the river and Poyang and Dongting lakes will go on for about two months and will conclude in the second week of January. Methods used in the survey include visual observation, acoustic and underwater noise detection as well as references to the surveys in 2006 and 2012. Water samples, sediment and underwater noise data will be collected every 50 km.

The research team will use drones for the first time in the survey to monitor the porpoises and their habitats, as well as visual observation, a recognised method used in wildlife observation. As visual fatigue is an inevitable element that can affect survey results, drone use will help to correct the results.

We will share the results of the survey in March 2018.

 

Find out more about WWF and HSBC’s Yangtze freshwater programme: https://www.thewaterhub.org/content/yangtze

 

About 10 years ago, the Baiji dolphin was declared functionally extinct. Now the population of finless porpoise is nearly half that of the panda. Protecting the porpoises is a pressing task for us.
Li Yanliang, chairman of National Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Association

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