BEIJING - A rare, nearly blind white dolphin that survived for millions of years is effectively extinct, an international expedition declared Wednesday after ending a fruitless six-week search of its Yangtze River habitat.
The baiji would be the first large aquatic mammal driven to extinction since hunting and overfishing killed off the Caribbean monk seal in the 1950s.
For the baiji, the culprit was a degraded habitat — busy ship traffic, which confounds the sonar the dolphin uses to find food, and overfishing and pollution in the Yangtze waters of eastern China, the expedition said.
"The baiji is functionally extinct. We might have missed one or two animals but it won't survive in the wild," said August Pfluger, a Swiss economist turned naturalist who helped put together the expedition. "We are all incredibly sad. They were the last living representative in their branch of life."
[Edited 2006-12-14 20:01:38]