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Conservationists Claim Seeing a Yangtze River Dolphin in China -- Is the Extinct Species Back?

Oct 12, 2016 10:03 AM EDT

Amateur conservationists from China have reported spotting the extinct Yangtze river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) in a stretch of the Yangtze river in China. With this claim, could the creature be back from extinction?

According to a report from Chinese publication Sixth Tone, a team of 11 conservationists spotted what they believe to be a baiji dolphin at around 9:20 am on Tuesday. The team said that they saw what looked like a dolphin, which jumped out of the water 100 meters away from the team's first boat and 300 meters away from the second boat.

Song Qi, the leader of the group, said that the creature jumped out of the water twice, allowing them to get an easy view. However, the team was not able to capture the creature as the team said that the camera they were using was a wide-angle camera.

“I saw most of the body, and the second time around I saw its mouth and head. “I saw most of the body, and the second time around I saw its mouth and head, "Song said.

Tagged as the "goddess of the Yangtze," National Geographic notes that baiji or Yangtze river dolphins became extinct in the early 2000s. In 2006, the baiji dolphin was declared functionally extinct after a big drop in population from 400 in 1979 to 1981 to 13 in the late 1990s.

The extinction of the animals was mainly due to human activities such as local fishing. China has been preparing Yangtze to be a major shipping route since the 1980s, which resulted to the creation of infrastructure. Also a cause of the baiji dolphin's extinction is the dumping of wastewater into the river which causes pollution, damaging the marine life of the area.

Experts are currently examining the sonar signals that Song's team recorded to identify hints that the animal really existed. However, despite no visual proof of what they saw, Song believes that what they saw was indeed a Yangtze river dolphin.

He said, "No other creature could jump out of the Yangtze like that. All the eyewitnesses -- which include fishermen -- felt certain that it was a baiji dolphin.”

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