Experts race to save Chinese white dolphin spotted in south China river

Mimi Lau
·2-min read

A Chinese white dolphin has been spotted for the first time ever in the Xi River in southern China, 300km (186 miles) from its usual habitat, prompting local authorities to halt all shipping and underwater construction work in the area until the animal can be guided back to safety.

The government of Wuzhou was quoted as saying in a report by Nanguo Morning Post on Saturday that the animal, also known as the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin, had been spotted in the river, which flows through the city in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

The official confirmation came after video footage of the dolphin was widely shared online on Friday afternoon. It was first sighted on the south side of the Xi, close to Yangjiang Bridge, but quickly disappeared after apparently becoming unnerved by approaching boats, the report said.

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Wuzhou officials were quoted as saying the dolphin was about one to 1.5 metres (three to five feet) long and weighed about 100kg (220lbs).

Chinese white dolphins have first-class state protection in China and have been on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species since 2008. Due to their rarity, in China they are often referred to as “pandas of the ocean”.

Known for their pink colouring and friendly nature, the dolphins are usually found in coastal waters of the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans, including the brackish waters of the Pearl River estuary. The Xi flows into the Pearl in the southeast of Guangxi.

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Other Chinese media reported that a Chinese white dolphin was spotted in the Xi River near the city of Zhaoqing in Guangdong province on Saturday, but it was unclear if it was the same animal.

Nanguo Morning Post quoted an unnamed expert as saying the dolphin might have swum up the Xi after being confused by the noises from underwater construction work. Dolphins use echolocation for hunting, communication and navigation, and unusual sounds underwater can throw them off track.

The report said experts had arrived in Wuzhou and were working on a plan to guide the dolphin back out to the ocean. There was the danger it might die if it did not get back into the open waters within three months, it said.

There are thought to be about 2,000 Chinese white dolphins living in the Pearl River estuary but the species is facing extinction due to human activity like construction and fishing activities, shipping accidents and pollution.

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