The Search for the River Goddess

Researchers on the Yangtze haven’t given up hope of finding the possibly extinct baiji dolphin

Each spring, when the weather is warm and waters are high, volunteers set out by the boatload in search of a “goddess.”

In April 2018, their efforts seemed to have been rewarded when volunteers snapped images of a white animal surfacing alongside a pod of finless porpoises, which several experts have since confirmed to be the baiji dolphin, declared functionally extinct since 2006.

A particularly complex section of the Yangtze River’s lower reaches, where multitudes of small lakes and channels branch off the main river, the Tongling Waters of Anhui province is one of the last places in China where researchers remain hopeful of rediscovering the lost “Goddess of the Yangtze.”

A freshwater dolphin that first appeared on the river 25 million years ago, the species’ extraordinary lifespan was believed to be over in the mid-2000s. There was once an estimated 6,000 baiji living in the Yangtze, but once China industrialized in the 1950s, it only took three decades for that number to dwindle to around 400.

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author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

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