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A confirmed sighting of a baiji dolphin just months after it was declared "extinct" has prompted scientists to launch an against-all-odds plan to save the last of the rare Chinese river dwellers. A team of marine-life scholars led by Wang Ding, a scientist at China's Institute of Hydrobiology, examined digital video footage recently taken along the eastern section of the Yangtze River. Now experts at the institute are studying the feasibility of transporting the survivors to a natural preserve in a Noah's Ark-like operation, said Wang, one of China's leading authorities on the nearly decimated species. The sighting provides a small ray of hope for scientists who had previously given up on the baiji. A six-nation coalition of scientists, including Wang, spent five weeks late last year using high-performance optical instruments and underwater microphones to search the Yangtze, the baiji's sole habitat, for any signs of the species. According to Wang, baiji dolphins apparently lived and flourished in the Yangtze for more than 19 million years before humans arrived on the scene. Beat Mueller is a geochemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology who was also part of the 2006 baiji expedition. Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone.
Threatened freshwater dolphins are protected within the Central Amazon Conservation Complex. An entirely new species of dolphin has been discovered in Australia, and not in some isolated lagoon but in the shadows of skyscrapers, scientists say.
About a hundred Burrunan dolphins have been found in Port Phillip Bay (map) near Melbourne, Australia's second most populous city.
The results were so surprising that the team initially thought there was a mistake and reran the tests, said study leader Kate Charlton-Robb, a marine biologist at Australia's Monash University. The team also examined dolphin skulls, collected and maintained by Australian museums over the last century, and determined that Burrunan dolphins have slight cranial differences that set the species apart.
Physical variations in dolphins in southeastern Australia have been reported for decades, though the new study is the first to use multiple lines of evidence to make a strong case for a new species, Charlton-Robb said.
In fact, the Burrunan dolphin was almost discovered in 1915, after a biologist captured and examined two very different dolphins from Australian waters.
Scientists at the time concluded that both the animals were common bottlenose dolphins, and that their differences were due to one being male and the other female.
Because so few of the new dolphin species are known, the Burrunan research team has petitioned the Australian government to list the animals as endangered. Canada geese come in for a landing, aiming to get their feet wet despite the morning chill.Freshwater habitats are critical for these migratory birds, which suffered from wetland destruction and overhunting in the early 20th century.
Two young boys try their luck in the waters of Lake Tumba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A large fish proves more than a mouthful for a hungry great egret, which lost its prize soon after this shot was snapped.
The Everglades, also referred to as the “River of Grass,” stretches across some 7,800 square miles (20,100 square kilometers) of Florida—an area similar to the size of Massachusetts.Home to gators, mangroves, and the Florida panther, the Everglades is one of the world’s great wetlands, but human hands have been heavy in draining and developing the region.
A hippo rears its head from a leafy patch of floating plants on the Zambezi River, which runs through southern Africa.The massive mammals spend most of their time—as much as 16 hours every day—submerged in river and lake waters that help to keep them cool.
Long-stemmed water lilies stretch towards the surface, and the sun, while schools of small fish feed in their shade.The waters of the incredible Cuatro Cienegas (Four Marshes) wetlands, in Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert, come from aquifers deep underground and thus remain crystal clear. An eastern diamondback rattlesnake stretches across the roots of a mangrove tree in the waters of Everglades National Park, Florida.Mangroves are specially adapted to living partially submerged in brackish waters like those found in the Everglades. To escape the hot Mexican Chihuahuan desert sun, Coahuilan box turtles chill in the waters of Laguna de los Burros.Unique among the world’s box turtles, these endangered animals are aquatic and spend perhaps 90 percent of their day in the springs, rivers, and pools of Mexico’s Cuatro Cienegas wetlands. Fulfilling their destiny to reproduce and die, spawning sockeye salmon head up the Ozernaya River on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia.The country’s remote peninsula holds some of the Pacific’s great salmon runs, which are popular with visiting anglers and the region’s native brown bears.


Thirsty mangrove roots stretch into a cool stream in Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Philippines. A tree frog peeks from its perch in a leafy spot of Peru’s lower Amazon.Tree frogs use aquatic habitats to reproduce by laying eggs on leaves that overhang freshwater.
Flamingoes flock to the waters of Lake Abijatta, Ethiopia, and other warm-water ecosystems around the globe.The iconic birds enjoy mudflats near salty lakes or estuaries where they dig up small aquatic creatures and filter them from the water with their beaks. Cutthroat trout, named for the distinctive red marking below their jaws, fight their way upstream to spawn in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.The fish is an American original that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark described on their way across Montana in 1805.
The Yangtze River’s white fin dolphin, or baiji, in China, was believed to be extinct until 2007—when evidence turned up via amateur video that the species still survived.Scientists say the mammals plied Chinese rivers for more than 19 million years before humans radically altered their habitat by overfishing, heavy freight traffic, and pollution.
Sandra is a leading authority on international freshwater issues and is spearheading our global freshwater efforts. For more than 15 years, Osvel Hinojosa Huerta has been resurrecting Mexico's Colorado River Delta wetlands. The National Geographic Society aims to be an international leader for global conservation and environmental sustainability. The video provides evidence of the survival of the baiji, or whitefin dolphin, the team confirmed. And the largest protected area within this vast and vital ecosystem is the Central Amazon Conservation Complex—a sprawling 23,000-square-mile (6-million-hectare) site that is itself bigger than Switzerland.The Amazon is one of the most biodiverse places on the entire planet.
Another 50 are known to frequent the saltwater coastal lakes of the Gippsland region (map), a couple hundred miles or so away.
But now DNA tests have shown that the creatures dolphins are genetically very different from the two recognized bottlenose dolphin species, the common bottlenose dolphin and the Indo-Pacific bottlenose.
After reviewing the female dolphin's skeleton recently, though, Charlton-Robb's team determined she was a Burrunan. In more recent years, however, the geese have proven adept at living in human-made aquatic habitats like golf courses, parks, and airports—becoming a permanent nuisance, and water quality problem, at some locales. The lake holds an amazing variety of fish species as well as freshwater crocodiles and hippos.Freshwater ecosystems cover less than one percent of Earth’s surface, but house 35 percent of all vertebrate species. This big bird may be seen across much of the globe but is nearly always found near water where food is plentiful.Great egrets depend on aquatic habitats—salt or freshwater—and find food in ponds, wetlands, streams, and tidal flats. At night these “river horses” leave the water and roam overland in search of grasses to sustain their 5,000- to 8,000-pound (2,268- to 3,629-kilogram) frames.
The 500-square-mile (1,295-square-kilometer) region has been isolated from other water systems for millions of years, allowing dozens of endemic species to evolve. These trees are one of some 700 different tropical- and temperate-plant species that call the Everglades home.
Only a few thousand of the turtles exist, and since the 1960s, their habitat has been cut in half by irrigation and drought.Worldwide, freshwater species extinction rates are four to six times higher than those of terrestrial or marine species. The three-foot-diameter (one-meter-diameter) lily collected rainfall and formed a small freshwater pool that proved irresistible to this insect inhabitant of Venetian Gardens in Leesburg, Florida.Water lilies are popular ornamentals, but as invasive species they can overwhelm bodies, pushing out native species and altering aquatic ecosystems.
But road-building for mines and natural gas pipelines in the region is also providing access to poachers who threaten salmon, bears, and other wildlife. As its name suggests, the park boasts a large, navigable underground river that empties directly into the sea.Relatively few humans visit the world’s underwater river systems. When the eggs hatch, tadpoles take the plunge to the waters below—where they live until they become young froglets and climb back into the boughs above. Shrimplike creatures are a favorite meal—a diet rich in the crustaceans gives the birds their familiar pink color.
Today the fish occupies only half its historic range and is threatened by the introduction of other species, including lake trout, which eat young cutthroat, and rainbow trout, which threaten the cutthroat lineage with hybridized reproduction.


If any dolphins can be found, a captive breeding program might represent the last, slim chance to save the species. When individuals pledge to use less water in their own lives, our partners carry out restoration work in the Colorado River Basin.
It's particularly rich in freshwater species—including more than 3,000 different fish species and the world’s largest variety of electric fish. At Tumba, heavy human migration to Congo and largely unchecked fishing are making it harder to take a meal from the lake. But some of their favorite meals may soon be off the menu—40 percent of all North America’s fish species are at risk of extinction.
But by tapping their waters and subjecting them to polluted runoff from cities and farms, many of us are altering the environment of the unique creatures which call them home. One example comes from an article a marine biologist in Scotland published earlier this month in Marine Mammal Science. The region is also home to unique and threatened South American species, including the giant arapaima fish, the Amazonian manatee, the black caiman, and two species of river dolphin.Within the enormous Central Amazon Conservation Complex several distinct, smaller entities house their own unique environments. He describes watching a male dolphin seize a newborn calf from its mother and viciously batter it.
Mamiraua Reserve’s varzea ecosystem is a landscape of seasonally flooded forests, floodplains, and swamps where the “white water” is actually yellowish in color due to suspended sediments.Each year the Amazon—which is so large its system contains 20 percent of Earth’s freshwater—and its tributaries rise as much as 30 feet (9 meters) to replenish floodplain soils and nutrients and recharge lakes and ponds.
Fish, reptiles, and other aquatic species take advantage of this cyclical occurrence to move into newly flooded areas and exploit their resources until the waters subside. If the calf dies, the female quickly becomes fertile again, giving the males an opportunity to father her next one.
Although rules are in place to protect the Central Amazon Conservation Complex and other areas from inappropriate uses, they can be extremely difficult to enforce.How to Get ThereRivers, not roads, are the transportation hubs in this region, and most of the few visitors to the Central Amazon Conservation Complex arrive by boat, employing everything from canoes to speedboats.
Manaus and Tefe are two popular gateway communities for such adventures.When to VisitThe Amazon is hot and humid all year, so the main seasonal consideration is rainfall. Rain (and river levels) reach their low ebb in November, then begin to build toward annual maximums in June and July.How to VisitA visit to this area offers a chance to explore a vast wilderness largely untrammeled by tourist infrastructure.
As her condition worsened, they tried another tactic: By swimming tightly together, they formed a raft of their bodies so they could carry the female on their backs.
Most tourist access is regulated by the government, however, and independent travel can be a challenge. Even then, several of the dolphins stayed near her side, touching her body, until it sank from view.There are numerous other accounts of mother dolphins carrying their sick or dead infants, or of one or two dolphins pushing another to the surface to help it, but this is the first report of a large group of dolphins working together to assist a stricken individual—which is not to say that dolphins rarely behave in this manner. Given a chance, the humpback will save the seal.The Dolphin KillersAnd then there is Taiji. The human fishers who are working there—forcibly corralling dolphins, holding them in pens for days in close quarters, tearing calves away from their mothers, and killing many—confound us because their actions are so utterly inhumane.And unnecessary. There are calls for certain species, including whales, dolphins, elephants, and chimpanzees, to be considered persons with rights.It required many centuries for human societies to recognize that other people had rights, and extending some kinds of rights—at a minimum, not being kept in captivity or used in biomedical research—to other animals is an even greater challenge. Her newest, Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures, has received several honors, including a Notable Book for 2014 award from the American Library Association and a Best Book of the Year designation from Kirkus Reviews.



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