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A milestone in the race to save the critically endangered Yangtze finless porpoises

Swimming porpoises wwf llikui

The critically endangered Yangtze finless porpoise received a lifeline this week when the Chinese government executed a plan to move a small group of the species to a new home.

Four finless porpoises were moved from Poyang Lake to holding pens March 21, under a strategy developed by the Ministry of Agriculture. They will be released into a secure new habitat in the He-wang-miao/Jicheng-yuan oxbow March 27. Four other individuals will be moved to Tian-e-zhou oxbow to boost the genetic diversity of the existing population in that location.

These eight finless porpoises—part of an estimated population of just over 1,000—were captured earlier this month using the safe, scientifically approved “acoustic drive netted method.”

"China's people and prosperity are linked to the fate of the finless porpoise,” Karin Krchnak, director of WWF’s freshwater program, said. “Like all river dolphins, they require healthy river ecosystems for survival, and so do the millions of people who live in the Yangtze River basin. Solutions to what threatens the finless porpoise will also help solve China's food- and water-security issues."

The finless porpoise faces seemingly overwhelming odds in the wild; unsustainable fishing and farming, poorly planned dams and infrastructure, and the mining and shipping industries are just a few of the activities impacting their health and degrading the fresh water in which they live. WWF’s 2014 Living Planet Report shows freshwater species are declining at a rate of 79 percent each year—much faster than their terrestrial or marine counterparts. The finless porpoise is no exception; its numbers are declining at around 13.7 percent per year. Without intervention, the species could go extinct in as little as five years.

By relocating the porpoises, the government, WWF and partners are creating a better opportunity for the species to thrive. These oxbows provide more secure waters away from the main Yangtze River, and limit the impacts of harmful human activities.

This translocation is the first step in a multi-year process. Later in 2015, four more porpoises will be moved from Tian-e-zhou oxbow—which is nearing capacity—to the He-wang-miao/Jicheng-yuan oxbow. Another four will make the same journey in 2017.

Learn more about the Yangtze finless porpoise.