This is the Yangtze river dolphin, known in China as the Baiji. One of the world’s few species of freshwater dolphin, and now one with the snows of yesteryear.
\The Baiji’s habitat was destroyed by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, its prey species were wiped out as a result of overfishing, and it suffered huge losses to boat traffic, pollution, and probably existential malaise.
What’s so important about this creature? Why should anyone care? These are questions that I pose to myself when making these pieces about extinct animals.
These creatures were on this planet for more than ten million years.
They lived lives of swift elegance in the muddy Yangtze water, curling through the turbidity and chaos of spring floods, snapping up fish with their long, toothy beaks.
Like many beautiful lost things, they were eliminated not necessarily by human rapaciousness, but by the byproducts of human industrial development and consumption.
People didn’t kill the Baiji off, but they did make it impossible for them to survive.
Who is responsible? We all are. This is what we do, and we are the losers, if only because only we can be tortured by the knowledge of what we’ve done.