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Commercial interests blamed for porpoise deaths

27 June 2012
China.org.cn has published an article investigating the spate of deaths of Yangtze Finless Porpoises in Dongting Lake. According to scientists, there were only 85 of the mammals living in the lake by March 2012, down from 230 in 2006.

In April, Xie Yongjun, associate professor of veterinary medicine in Yueyang Vocational Technical College, conducted a dissection on one of the dead porpoises and found no food residue in its digestive system. Shortly afterwards, experts from the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences performed autopsies on two more dead porpoises, and concluded that the causes of death were man-made: one was wounded by a boat’s propellers, while the other was probably killed by electrofishing.

Jiang Yong, the Changsha programme director at the World Wide Fund for Nature, pointed to the continuous flow of ships transporting sand, which block the porpoise’s migration channel between Dongting Lake and the Yangtze River and prevent gene exchange. According to Jiang, sand excavation destroys the lake bed and changes hydrological conditions, which in turn threatens the natural supply of fish the mammals feed on. The number and size of these sand dredges could also disturb the sonar ability of finless porpoises and increase the difficulty for them to find food.

Sand dredging is an important revenue earner for the local governments of Yueyang county and Miluo city, which are located on the shores of the lake.

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