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Yangtze Finless Porpoise: A Smiling Rarity

Scientific classification: Neophocaena Asiaeorientalis

The longest river in Asia, the Yangtze River, was home to two different species of dolphin — the Yangtze fi nless porpoise and the Baiji dolphin. In 2006, the Baiji dolphin was declared functionally extinct. Its close cousin, the Yangtze fi nless porpoise, known for its mischievous smile and a level of intelligence comparable to that of a gorilla in now critically endangered.

Unlike most porpoises, these don’t have a fi n on their back or a beak. They can’t breathe under water, so have to come to the surface regularly to breathe air. They don’t leap out of the water like a dolphin, but they ‘spy hop’ — stand up in the water and use their fi ns to spin round so they can see what’s happening.

Porpoises look very similar to dolphins. Generally they are smaller, their body shape is rounder and they don’t have the ‘beak’ of the more well-known dolphins.

Porpoises are believed to have emerged about 15 million years ago as a distinct group of aquatic mammals, and were confi ned to the northern part of the Pacifi c Basin. They then slowly evolved into the six species of porpoise that are alive today.

Although they are not directly targeted by fi shermen, a large number die when they become accidentally entangled in fi shing gear. The waters they live in are really busy with people fi shing and using the waterways to move around, so they are also injured and killed by boats and ships moving in and out of the estuary. In 2012, there were as few as 1,000 fi nless porpoises left in the Yangtze.,
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