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Life Arts

Slow Down - The Baiji is not saved

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It is being widely reported that the Baiji is not extinct as had previously been reported.

The story goes that someone filmed one of the animals jumping out of the water.

This reminded me of something from the book ‘Last Chance To See’ by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine who is a well-respected zoologist who usually works for BBC radio 4.

In this passage I am about to transcribe they are in China looking for the baiji in the 1980’s. They are talking about the difficulty of actually getting to see one in the Yangtze river. Douglas Adams is narrating…

Every momentary black shadow of a dancing wave looks for an instant like what you want it to look like and I did not even have a good mental picture of what to look for.

“Do you know how long they surface for?”, I asked Mark.



“It isn’t good news, the dolphins ‘melon’ or forehead breaks the surface first as it blows, then its small dorsal fin comes up and then it plunges back down again.”

“How long does that take?”

“Less than a second.”


I digested this.

“I don’t think we’re going to see one are we?”

Mark looked depressed. With a sigh he opened a bottle of baiji beer and took a rather complicated swig at it so as not to take his eyes off the water.

“Well, we might well see a finless porpoise” he said.

“They are not as rare as the dolphins are they?” I said.

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Scotland's Michael Greenwell has worked, at various times, as a university tutor, a barman, a DJ ("not a very good one," he clarifies), an office lackey, supermarket worker, president of a small charity, a researcher, a librarian, a volunteer worker in Nepal during the civil war there, and "some other things that were too tedious to mention." Nowadays, he explains, "I am always in (more...)

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