Zoological Society of London – Finless Porpoise

Image: Clare Shenstone

The Critically Endangered Yangtze finless porpoise is a subspecies of cetacean found only in the Yangtze river, China. Over the past two decades their population is believed to have dropped dramatically, but data are so sparse it is impossible to determine the extent or causes of this crash. A small team based at the Institute of Zoology/Zoological Society of London and University College London is carrying out research on this species to determine the key threats to its survival, and working with local authorities and organisations to apply this research in conservation on the ground.

Only too recently, in 2006, the world saw the extinction of its first large vertebrate species for five decades – the Yangtze river dolphin or baiji. This species shared the same habitat as the porpoise and fears are that, if nothing is done, the porpoise may meet a similar fate. Increases in human population and industrialisation of the porpoise’s home – the Yangtze River – present a whole host of potential threats, from high boat traffic to illegal electro-fishing techniques, to high pollution levels and dam construction.

Although all of these factors may well be contributing to the porpoise’s decline, very little is known about the ecology of this cetacean and how human activities affect its ecosystem: it is close to impossible to direct conservation action effectively towards the relevant threats. The ZSL/UCL team is carrying out research, including surveys of porpoise populations, interviews with local fishermen and other stakeholders about their fishing habits and other threats, and networking with NGOs in the area to develop a broad understanding of the porpoise’s situation and current management responses. This work is vital in identifying the steps that need to be taken before it is too late for another Yangtze vertebrate species.

Synchronicity Earth has supported ZSL Finless Porpoise since 2015 for research and communication on threats to the Yangtze finless porpoise.

At A Glance