WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- An international research team said it fears the Yangtze River dolphin, or Baiji, has become extinct in China due to fishing and commercial development.
A team of scientists, including biologists from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, failed to find a single Yangtze River dolphin during a six-week survey in China, raising fears the dolphin has become the first cetacean to vanish as result of human activity.
"The last time these animals were surveyed was in the 1990s when only 13 were found," said Barbara Taylor, a NOAA marine biologist. "This time, we detected no Baiji, either visually or acoustically. This would be the first human-caused extinction of a dolphin or whale and it is particularly sad for the last member of a family of a species that is over 20 million years old."
The scientists said the likely cause of the Baiji's demise is the use of fishing nets with hooks that snag and drown the dolphins as bycatch. Other causes may include habitat degradation.
The team's report appeared in the online journal Biology Letters.