Drought in China threatens endangered freshwater dolphins

The drought in China lasting for about 200 days has lowered water level in Swan Nature Reserve.

Updated: May 27, 2011, 15:48 PM IST

Beijing: A highly-endangered freshwater dolphin in China is under threat from lingering drought as the water level in the Yangtze river keeps dropping.

The drought in central China, lasting for about 200 days, has lowered the water level to 27.38 meters in the Swan Island National Nature Reserve in Shishou City in Hubei
Province, said Wang Ding, a dolphin expert at the Hydrobiology Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

"The level is 3 meters lower than last year, the lowest level over the past decades. Finless porpoises cannot survive if the level continues to drop," Wang said.

The river section for some 30 dolphins to live has been reduced to ten kilometres from 21 kilometres on normal days, Wang said.

"If the activity area is reduced, they might be stranded on the banks and will die if they cannot swim back," he was quoted by official Shanghai daily as saying.

Finless porpoise, one of the six porpoise species and a protected mammal in China, is known locally as jiang zhu, or river pig.

The grey, smoothly shaped dolphin only lives in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze, as well as in Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake.

The dolphin population is only 1,000, even fewer than that of the giant panda, and is decreasing at a rate of 6.4 percent annually, Wang said.

Five finless porpoises were found in the Swan Island National Nature Reserve in the 1990s, and currently their population exceeds 30.

Extreme weather and human activities are the main threats to the species, Wang said. "Some farmers pump water from the reserve to relieve the drought these days," he said.