May 26 – Following the sad tale of the extinction of the Chinese Yangtze River Dolphin, it appears the Yangtze River is losing more species, including the giant Chinese Paddlefish, which has not been seen alive since 2007.
Reaching 23 feet (7 meters) in length and weighing half a ton (450 kilograms), the creature is thought to have been the world’s largest freshwater fish. Not a single young fish has been observed since 1995. Extinction is likely to have been caused by the building of the Three Gorges Dam, which cut off the species migratory route from the Yangtze Delta, where they spend most of their lives, to their spawning grounds further upriver.
Several other Yangtze River species are thought to be either seriously imperiled or already extinct for similar reasons as the dam fragmented the river and cut off access to much of it to migrating species, dependent on upper level sanctuaries.
The Paddlefish had been a popular catch for Yangtze fishermen due to their huge size and apparently succulent flesh. They were often served in the past at the Imperial Court to the emperor. The last Paddlefish seen alive was caught and killed by fishermen in Jiayu county, Hebei Province. Despite attempts to rescue it, the animal died from its injuries.
The likely extinction of the Paddlefish highlights concerns over the state of the Yangtze River, and the wisdom of the entire Three Gorges project. Several other aquatic species in the Yangtze have become highly endangered or are already thought to have become extinct, including several migratory species of fish. Bird species once common in certain areas are also now not seen, and a sharp decline in the numbers of other related animals such as frogs and newts has been documented.