As the sole freshwater subspecies of finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides), the Yangtze finless porpoise (N. p. asiaeorientalis) lives only in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and its appended Poyang and Dongting Lakes. As a result of human activity on the river, including over and illegal fishing, pollution, transportation and dam construction, the population of Yangtze finless porpoises has been steadily and rapidly decreasing during the past several decades, which leads the animal to be endangered.
For saving this unique animal from extinction, three corresponding measures, in situ conservation, ex situ conservation, and intensifying breeding research in captivity, were proposed and have been implemented since the 1980s.
After successfully rearing the animals in captivity for almost nine years, the first Yangtze finless porpoise was successfully born in captivity on July 5, 2005. The calf is male, with a body length of 69cm. This is the first freshwater cetacean ever born in captivity.
The successful birth of this calf confirms that it is possible to breed the Yangtze finless porpoise in captivity. Furthermore, this will greatly benefit the conservation efforts, and also greatly bolster our on-going efforts to study the reproductive biology of these animals.
More studies and efforts are expected to establish a sustainable, captive colony of the Yangtze finless porpoise, which will not only greatly expand our knowledge about the reproduction biology of this animal, but also help to redeem the wild population through a careful yearly ‘soft releasing’ process.