Signs of hope for Yangtze finless porpoise as rate of population decline slows dramatically

Posted on 26 July 2018

Population of world’s only freshwater porpoise has only dropped slightly past five years
After years of rapid decline, the latest census shows that the population of the critically endangered Yangtze finless porpoise has remained almost stable in recent years – dropping very slightly to 1012 individuals from 1040 in 2012.
Conducted by the Chinese government with support from WWF and other NGOs, the 49-day survey, which happened in late 2017, found the rate of decline of the world’s only freshwater porpoise has drastically reduced from almost 13 per cent per year between 2006-2012.
“The future of the smiling porpoise is still at risk but this census provides signs of hope that we can save the species from extinction,” said Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF China. “Concerted efforts by government, scientists, businesses, communities and conservationists have made a real difference and slowed the decline in the Yangzte finless porpoise, but we need to redouble our efforts because this iconic species still faces huge threats.”
The Yangtze finless porpoise is now split between three habitats. While the estimated population increased slightly in both Dongting Lake (from 90 to 110) and Poyang Lake (450 to 457), the number of individuals in the Yangtze mainstream fell (505 to 445).
Since the last census in 2012, the Chinese government’s decisions to extend fishing bans, crack down on illegal fishing and restrict sand mining have played a critical role in slowing the decline of the species. Hopes of saving the porpoise have also been boosted by a series of successful relocations in recent years.
In 2016, the government also established environmental protection as the first priority in the Yangtze River Economic Belt and launched a 10-year plan to save the finless porpoise.
“Saving the finless porpoise will have huge benefits for the hundreds of millions of people, global businesses and other species that depend on a healthy Yangtze,” said Sze Ping.
However, finless porpoises are still at serious risk from accidental by-catch, pollution, the impacts of remaining sand mining, shipping and poorly-planned water infrastructure projects.
“Slowly we’re turning the tide and it’s no longer impossible to believe that we can make an amends and save these incredible animals from extinction,” said Stuart Orr, WWF Leader Freshwater Practice. “The latest census offers a symbol of hope – not just for the finless porpoise and other endangered species that share our major rivers but for people too because we’re intrinsically linked. Thriving freshwater mammals reflects a healthy river system, which offers a life source for billions of people.”
A finless porpoise on the Oxbow Reserve, connected to the Yangtze River
© Justin Jin / WWF-US
2017 Yangtze finless porpoise expedition
© Xian Yijie
Porpoise in the Yangtze river
© Wang Xiaogiang
Feeding a finless porpoise on the Oxbow Reserve in Tian-E-Zhou. China
© Justin Jin / WWF-US