The baiji, or Yangzi river dolphin (白鲫豚, báijì tún), was once a common sight along the middle Yangzi, and one of only four freshwater dolphin species worldwide. The animals – 2.5m long, with a long thin snout and a stubby dorsal fin – were seen as a good omen by fishermen, lending their name to Anhui’s Baiji beer, which had their Latin name, Lipotes vexillifer, stamped on the bottle cap. But as China’s population expanded, new forms of fishing, industrial pollution, river traffic and dam projects quickly decimated the numbers of sonar-guided baiji. A six-week, 3200km survey in 2006 failed to find a single dolphin and they have since become the first aquatic mammal to be declared functionally extinct for the past 50 years.

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