First large vertebrate extinction in fifty years.

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Another day, another extinction: after a comprehensive six-week study scientists fear that the rare Chinese Yangtze river dolphins, known as “baijis”, may be extinct. Having failed to find any of the baiji, which were already classified as “critically endangered” by the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Treatened Species, the research team blamed unregulated fishing for the disappearance.

Dr Sam Turvey of the Zoological Society of London described this as a “shocking tragedy”: “This extinction represents the disappearance of a complete branch of the evolutionary tree of life and emphasises that we have yet to take full responsibility in our role as guardians of the planet.”

Baiji were not actively hunted, unlike the Brazilian dolphins we reported on last month. The team’s report highlighted that the extinction differs from most historical extinctions of large bodied animals because it was not “an active persecution but an incidental mortality resulting from massive-scale human environmental impacts”.

We can only hope it’s not the first of many animals to be wiped out in this way.

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