Baiji Dolphin

Lipotes vexillifer


Introduction to Baiji Dolphin

You will likely hear the Baiji Dolphin referred to as a variety of other names but they are all the same one. Goddess of the Yangtze is common due to the respect that the people of this area have for the dolphins. The Chinese River Dolphin is also a popular name. Where some confusion does come into the picture though is that they are different from the Chinese White Dolphin. Too often that one is assumed to be the same too but it isn’t. This is a separate type of dolphin species.

Class  Mammalia
Subclass  Eutheria
Order  Cetacea
Suborder  Odontoceti
Superfamily  Platanistoidea
Family  Lipotidae
Genus  Lipotes
Conservation status  Extinct

Baiji Dolphin Description

The body of this dolphin is designed to make it very easy for them to swim in the water but at the same time to do it without lots of energy being used. They have an upward facing snout with a beak like end to it. They also have rounded flippers. There is no hair found on the Baiji Dolphin and you will notice that compared to other dolphins, the eyes are high up on the head.

They feature a grayish blue color with white or cream on the belly. They do have teeth on the upper and lower jaws. The total teeth ranges from 30 to 36. While most dolphin species have two stomachs, this one doesn’t. They do have a stomach that features three separate chambers though. The females are longer and heavier than the males which is also different from most of the other dolphin species. They can be as long as 8 feet and they can weigh up to 500 pounds.

Baiji Dolphin Distribution

There are only a handful of species of dolphins that can live in freshwater, and the Baiji Dolphin is one of them. In China living in the Yangtze River is the only place you will find them in the wild. They live in a very diverse habitat here. Part of their survival is highly dependent upon conservation efforts. The river has had serious problems with pollutants including chemicals and debris that compromise the survival of anything living in it.

Baiji dolphin - Lipotes vexillifer

Size comparison of a baiji to an average human / Author: Chris Huh

Baiji Dolphin Behavior

There is still plenty that has to be learned about this dolphin. It can be hard to observe them because the Baiji Dolphin spends so much time under the water. This may help them with their orientation and to communicate. They live in small pods that have from 2 to 10 members. They also use clicks and whistles frequently to be able to communicate with each other.

Socialization is a big part of life for these dolphins. They are believed to forge very deep bonds within the pod. They are active during the day and then move to areas of the water with slow moving currents at night so they can rest. They seem to hide from humans in the water which is another reason why it is so hard to learn more about their overall behaviors.

Baiji Dolphin Feeding

Various species of fish make up the main source of food for these dolphins. They will normally only be looking for food during the day. They tend to get their food often from the bottom of the water where it is muddy. Since they have a long beak they can dive and get it with ease. They usually only dive for 10 or 20 seconds before they come back up for air. They look for food towards the shallow waters.

While the Baiji Dolphin doesn’t have very good vision, they can find food without any problems. They use the process of echolocation to help them do so. They will find food often around the mouth of rivers or around sand banks. They will only go to deeper locations if they fail to find enough food in these locations.

Chinese River Dolphin Facts and Information

Chinese River Dolphin / Author: Dixi

Baiji Dolphin Reproduction

It has been difficult to observe the mating habits of this dolphin in the wild. There doesn’t seem to be any set mating season so it can occur at any point. Generally though it occurs in the first six months of the year. The young calf will be born from 10 to 11 months later. They can be 3 feet long at birth!

They will remain very close to their mother and create a strong bond. They may drink milk her body produces, but there isn’t good information regarding how long they do so. They also start to eat fish when they are about 6 months old. It isn’t known how long they will remain with their mother. However, it is believed that the females only mate every 3 to 6 years.

Baiji Dolphin Conservation Status and Threats

There has been quite a decline in the number of these dolphins due to the industry booming in China and that is a huge concern. The river they live in has been used for a variety of transporting needs, for commercial fishing, and even the introduction of hydroelectricity. The efforts for conservation haven’t been sufficient enough to prevent more of the Baiji Dolphins from disappearing.

Commercial fishing nets are a huge problem as the dolphins can get tangled up in them. Then they can’t get to the surface for air. Sometimes, they are intentionally hunted for elaborate expeditions or for the meat to be consumed. Remains of them are often used for bait too. Pollution continues to cause struggles for them too. The Yangtze River has had significant problems with that.

In 1992 parts of the river were preserved only for the dolphins, but such efforts to conserve the location came far too late. The damages and the depleted numbers had already taken too heavy of a toll on them. The last Baiji Dolphin was confirmed to be seen in that river in 2006 so they are now regarded as being functionally extinct. Even though there have been some reports of them in 2007 there has been nothing confirmed. There hasn’t been enough money available to create a concentrated effort to investigate the situation further. It is very possible that some numbers remain but most experts don’t feel enough that they can be saved from extinction.


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