Image credit: ori2uru/Flickr
Researchers often wondered whether the finless porpoise, which has a range from Japan to China, India to the Persian Gulf—in fresh and salt water—might not be a single species.
New research, however, indicates that at least one group—which lives in China's Yangtze River—is genetically distinct from Neophocaena phocaenoides as a whole. If verified, the finding would define a new species—a species whose population is less than 1,000 individuals.Professor Guang Yang of Nanjing Normal University, who led the study, explained:
The most surprising finding of this study is that the Yangtze finless porpoise represents a distinct genetic grouping, which is distinct from marine porpoises.
A survey conducted in 2006 estimated that there were just under 1,000 finless porpoise in the Yangtze. Compared with previous studies, this number represents an alarming drop that reminds conservationists of the decline of the Baiji dolphin, which is now considered to be "functionally extinct."
In the Yangtze River, cetaceans like the finless porpoise and Baiji dolphin are threatened by pollution, heavy industry, development, overfishing, and commercial ship traffic.
Even before the recent study was released, China was considering moving the finless porpoise from a national II conservation grade to national I—the most critical classification in the system. Conservationists, however, fear that even this effort may be too late to save the small—and likely unique—Yangtze river population.