back to article Yangtze river dolphin is an ex-cetacean

Scientists have today declared the Yangtze river dolphin extinct after an intensive survey failed to find evidence of a single animal in the waterway. Pollution, shipping, and over-fishing have all been fingered as culprits. The dolphin's demise marks the first large vertebrate species obliterated by human activity for 50 years …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    All species become extinct. 99.99999% of all species which have ever lived are extinct and the tiny remaining fraction are no exception.

    Those which are on the planet now will all be extinct one day (relatively) soon, whether it's because they fail to adapt or because they adapt and become new species.

    Adapt or die.

    (by the way, I've just received this little goldfish bowl, inscribed "so long and thanks for all the fish"...)

  2. George Johnson


    So what if this was some lesser known bug that burrowed into your brain or gave you the Dheli-belly, would everyone be so up in arms?! Just because it's the cuddly sea-side equivalent of some fluffy land animal like an otter or koala, everyone starts shedding tears! Yes all very sad, but what did you expect from the way we carry on stomping across the planet like we own the bloody place!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not a problem though

    It's not a problem though because we, in the west, can still buy cheap tat, mass produced in conditions that would make a Victorian workhouse look like a poncy media company.

  4. Lloyd


    The WWF who funded the expedition reckon it may not be extinct as they didn't cover the entire river, however they also reckon if there are any left it's only 1 or 2 which means it's as good as.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    First Anon Poster: Are you so ignorant that you can't see the difference between natural selection and extinction caused by industry?

    George: The point was made in your last sentence. We certainly do not own the planet, and at some point we are going to have to wake up and stop sh***ing in our own back gardens.

    Am I a green fingered eco-warrior? Hardly. But like many people I DO care about the effect we are having on the environment, and I try to do my small part where I can.

    Maybe we could ensure the extinction of the ignorance and stupidity that causes a mess like this in the first place?

    Perhaps by making those worst affected by said ignorance and stupidity go and live on and drink from the Yangtze?

    Just a thought...

  6. Nick Oakley

    China Bashing

    It's just another media outlet jumping onto the current bandwagon ( built in the US? ) that hails to the promised land of a new democratised China if we all give 'em enough love and a little encouragement.

  7. Idgarad

    Failure to Adapt

    ...Unfortunately today evolution chose not to favor this particular species and due to it's inability to adapt to an ever changing environment has been written from history. In other news a thriving colony of cockroaches have moved into the newly freed river area where there once natural predator once lived....

    Nature doesn't care if they go extinct or not. Life is, so far, an abnormality in the universe and we are not garunteed that our ecosystem was stable to begin with. If it is the nature of humans to coat everything in plastic and pave the earth, so be it. Deer don't ponder if stripping the bark off a tree will kill it and I highly doubt ebola has senate subcommitees on whether to infect someone or not. Too often we forget we are just as much a part of nature as any other animal and what we do, good or bad, is part of nature. We somehow think that we have some measure of insight and self awareness that entitles us to define what normal should be (usually based on our tiny sliver of history here on Earth). Be it warming, cooling, or things going Dodo on us the fact remains that Venus has a seriously bad case of global warming (last I checked it's hot enough that many metals melt in the atmosphere).

    There have been billions of animals that have gone extinct before man was around and a billion more I am sure are waiting to perish as well. I find it arrogant to assume there was some kind of stable ecosystem prior to man coming into the picture and the idea that we are accelrating it through pollution is based on the idea that normal was what it was prior to the pollution. If we compare our planet to any other we look like a two headed freak with translucent dentures.

    R.I.P some dolphin I wasn't going to eat in the first place...

    Perhaps we are a natural catalyst for evolution. Periodically man evolves, screws with the environment does a ton of genetic engineering and wipes himself out in the process. Meanwhile the rest of nature doesn't care and moves on, and thanks to the periodic human infestation have been mutated and weaned.

    Perhaps humans are meant to "stir the pot" perodically. There is no garuntee that we're supposed to survive it.

    All this discussion boils down to me is, "What is normal, who are we to decide, and by what rules do we determine what is normal extinction, abnormal extinction, and how are we not part of nature?" If we are to take a secular, scientific approach to our lives then we have to ask, in comparing our planet's ecosystem, what is the control group and is it value. Are we on track to become Venus or Mars? Is that a normal progression? Where are we measuring our standards of normal. Lets not forget the Sahara was at some point a tropical forest, we can't blame Ford for that one.

    Just some philisophical thoughts to throw out there. Enjoy, loath, what ever works for ya.

    P.S. Apologies for my spelling, public education at it's finest...

  8. Gavin McMenemy

    don't be an ass or any other domesticated land animal...

    "sea-side equivalent of some fluffy land animal"

    Dolphins are hardly cute and fluffy. Read up on them.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think..

    ... that it was eaten into extinction. They still have a few civet cats, boars and snakes left, but these will be gone soon. I hope they like pigeons because I have plenty to give away.

  10. Ronan Tumelty

    A disgrace...

    Cuddly equivalent? Dolphins are one of the most intelligent species on our planet, and judging by the first two comments, I wouldn't be surprised if they outstrip quite a few humans.

    And "adapt or die" is a bit stretched to the limit when unregulated fishing and the pollution of about 600 million people are factored into the equation. I'd like to see humans put up against those odds... At the rate we're going it doesn't look like we'll take all that long.

    Calling this a failure of evolution is just copping out. It's humanity's fault that the species died, and if we'd taken measures a few years ago, when we knew there were only a dozen left, we might have been able to preserve the species.

    Quite aside from the distaste I feel for yet another creature being wiped out by our lack of caring, it's a huge loss for the scientific world. The Yangtze River dolphin was an example of a creature that had been cut off from the rest of its kind (ie. cephalopods) for millions of years, and as such it was a living specimen of how evolution works in closed environments as opposed to open ones.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yes, it's bad...

    ...but we didn't do it on porpoise.


  12. Robert Hirst

    Re: So?

    [quote](by the way, I've just received this little goldfish bowl, inscribed "so long and thanks for all the fish"...)[/quote]

    Strange you used a Douglas Adams quote after you made your point that it doesn't matter if humanity wipes out the dolphins and it's the dolphins fault since they didn't adapt to the massive pollution and unskilled fishing.

    I was reminded of Douglas Adams when I read the article, but what sprung to mind for me was the section on the Yangtze dolphin from "Last Chance to See". Shame that more people with attitudes like yours didn't read that book in time for this particular species, still plenty of time to wipe out the rest of the species Douglas Adams was so keen on saving.

  13. Will Leamon

    Douglas Adams

    Funny you should mention Douglas Adams.

    DA was a strong proponent of conservation especially the Bajji Dolphin. He wrote a book with a scientist called Last Chance To See which covered the dolphin, an extremely rare lemur and the kimodo dragon. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject as it is a quite well balanced look at the whole of conservation efforts in the world. The bit on the kimodo is especially revealing.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So? again

    In response to my critics :

    The earth is doomed. One day it will be burned to a cinder by the sun becoming a red giant. Polishing it to look pretty and lush until that happens is a waste of time. To those who say we'll leave the earth and colonise space by then, so what? Think you'll survive the big crunch/heat death of the universe do you?

    All these species will be gone by then anyway.

    Does it matter when or how these species disappear? No. It doesn't alter the fact that they will be gone (and that includes us) eventually. All of us. WITHOUT EXCEPTION.

    So do I care? No.

    Like it or lump it.

    (As for whether I should read "Last Chance to See" - actually I did. It was this understanding of Adams' view which led me to change my thinking about the necessity or otherwise of "protecting" wildlife.)

  15. Alistair MacRae

    Up to 8 meters? That's huge!

    Thats like the size of a killerwhale isn't it?

  16. Karl Lattimer

    2010... following on from george

    @George Johnson

    As said in 2010, "this event has reminded us that we're merely tenants of this world, and the land lord just renewed the lease"

  17. Chris Fryer

    Re: A disgrace

    "The Yangtze River dolphin was an example of a creature that had been cut off from the rest of its kind (ie. cephalopods) for millions of years"

    I'll say. The cephalopoda appeared in the fossil record around 550 million years ago, with the Nautiloids reaching their apogee during the Ordovician and Silurian periods. The cetacea, on the other hand, appeared in the Lower Eocene, some 500 million years later :-)

    But I take your point. The Platanistidae (river dolphins) seem to have diverged from the rest of the toothed whales in the Lower Miocene, around 20 mya.

  18. Robert Hirst

    Re: So? again

    [quote]Does it matter when or how these species disappear? No. It doesn't alter the fact that they will be gone (and that includes us) eventually. All of us. WITHOUT EXCEPTION.[/quote]

    By your logic, murdering people is fine, since everyone is going to die sooner or later anyway therefore it doesn't matter who or what kills them.... nice outlook...

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >"The WWF who funded the expedition ..."

    Why are pro wrestlers suddenly looking for dolphins?

  20. Martin Benson

    re: So? and So? again

    You seem to be suggesting that as the earth is doomed in the long term, we might as well not bother to preserve what we have in the short term.

    Isn't that a bit like saying "Well, I'm going to die in the long term, so I might as well not bother to eat healthily and exercise"?

    Of course, if you are an overweight alcoholic couch potato who smokes 80 a day, then fair enough.

  21. Eduard Coli

    Race to the bottom?

    Bets are still on.

    Will the US economy collapse because of the greed of the top 3% upper echelon under weight of it's trade debts, loss of industry and employment or will the greed of the Peoples Democratic Party China poison the entire country first?

  22. Aitor

    So? you are a bit lame..

    I must but agree with you.

    I guess that it won't matter to you if someone kills you today, as you would die anyway....

    We should try to conserve the planet, if not for ourselves, for our descendants. Not for you, obviously...

    I would also suggest you to stop writing. At the end you will die and all your works disappear, so, why bother? I guess that you don't clean your house, as it will get dirty again...

  23. Bill Smith

    I wonder

    if all those people who are telling us that its 'natural' for species to go extinct would be so happy to see their little Charles and Chardoneys or Granparents go extinct.

  24. Robin Lettice (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Up to 8 meters? That's huge!

    Metres and feet were confused in the article. It's been fixed now.

    Robin Lettice

    The Register

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Robert Hirst

    "By your logic, murdering people is fine, since everyone is going to die "

    Yes, of course I advocate murder, Robert. Mwahahah!

    Preferably of people who use such ridiculous extrapolations.

    If you think I'm suggesting that muder is okay, you are the one who has a screw loose in your logic, not me. Nobody murdered these dolphins. We accidentally elbowed them aside (which you may discover if you read up on why they became extinct.) We just simply didn't bother to conserve them.

    Sad, but it's not going to make me lose sleep.

  26. John Ridley

    RE: So? again

    Yes, the earth, and the universe are doomed.

    Apparently you think that makes life worthless? Hopefully not everyone thinks like that. If so, then there's no point whatsoever in discouraging any kind of "bad" behavior. Steal, murder, lie, whatever, it doesn't matter, because in 100 years everyone will be dead anyway.

    I appreciate the beauty of the earth. I choose to try to leave as much of it as possible to future generations, whether my children, yours, or some chinese I'll never meet. They're as worthy as we are. The accident of having been born before them does not give us the right to steal from them.

  27. Andrew Kelly

    How clever are dolphins?

    I can't believe they are that clever. How many have won mastermind?

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I tried and failed

    I tried very hard not to get worked over Mr. So? but I failed. The 'sun will blow up and take everything with it' argument is an argument that excuses literally anything.

    "I raped and murdered a child but so what? The kid would have died eventually anyway."

    "I committed genocide but so what? They would all have died eventually anyway."

    Perhaps someone more eloquent than I can expose the fallacy without a reductio ad absurdum.


  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re : Martin - long term v short term

    "Of course, if you are an overweight alcoholic couch potato who smokes 80 a day, then fair enough."

    Only 20 a day, but otherwise dead on.

  30. Alan White

    Oooh, ya big numpty

    "The earth is doomed. One day it will be burned to a cinder by the sun becoming a red giant. Polishing it to look pretty and lush until that happens is a waste of time."

    Presumably with that attitude you defecate on the carpet every morning rather than take the effort to walk to the bog?

    I mean, your house is going to succumb to the ravages of time and weather eventually, why keep it intact in the meantime?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >"Why are pro wrestlers suddenly looking for dolphins?"

    Jesus get with the times, they are the WWE these days, and have been for ages

  32. Dave Pearce

    RE: So?

    To the anonymous coward:

    You doom-mongering git, why don't you go bury yourself and stop spouting your despressive, socially-inept twoddle all over this article? With an attitude like yours I'm surprised YOU haven't been made extinct by just about anyone unfortunate enough to be in the same country as you! Funnier still, you seem to take pleasure in the fact that you're a shallow, antisocial and dumbfuck with as much consideration for your fellow man as America has for personal privacy! Either that or you must assume that everything respawns just like in whichever MMORPG you got your life & debating skils from.

    I'd suggest you get out into the world (big blue & green room outside, just beyond the entrance to the underground bunker you must be locked in) sometime and experience it while you can.

    My own opinion on how we [humanity] are treating this planet and this article? Simple: Mother Nature has bigger teeth and one day it *will* bite back without a doubt... until then lets not do anything else to provoke it.

    On another note, can I have all your money/bank details/possessions etc? You *will* lose them/give it all away/die one day so whats the point in you holding on to them when its easier to stop caring now and just hand them over... "like it or lump it".

  33. Dillon Pyron

    Anonymous trolls

    As long as you and your ilk continue to post anonymously, you'll be scorned by me and others like me. I may disagree with their statements, but they're entitled to them. You, on the other hand, have no such entitlement as long as you post behind a curtain.

    This is just the first of what will soon become a flood of extinctions. Followed closely, I suspect, by several species of shark. All killed for the greater good of China.

  34. Rob

    RE: So? again...

    Comments to be preserved for ever, a prime example of how a CHAV thinks, well done, I have copied and saved those for future examples to show my students.

  35. El Regular

    re: failure to adapt

    Idgarad, as far as exploring the our extent of knowledge, we have assumed there is only life on this of nine planetoids. Many the environments on this same planet, that we thought could never support life, in fact do so. From bacterium inside of rocks miles deep to shrimps living around sub aquatic volcanoes, to spiders and fish in cave systems 'poisoned' with sulphuric acid. Life is pretty tough, and it's fairly prolific, don't discount it. If life can make it on this planet in the way it has, life then has the ability to 'bruteforce' it's chances to exploit any ecosystem it can access.

  36. Keller Drozdick

    RE: Adaption failure

    Yes the dolphin "failed to adapt". And yes, many species have gone extinct. And yes, we are highly self-centered and conceited if we think we can define what a "normal" ecology is, and what is "good" for nature.

    Unfortunately, we are equally self-centered and conceited if we think we can take whatever action is convenient at the moment regardless of the impact on anyone or anything else.

    The tragedy here is that a species was rendered extinct because of people being ignorant of (or more likely ignoring) the impact of their actions. They could have modified their behavior slightly and probably protected the species in question. It's not a question of trying to dictate nature, it's just thinking the impact of your actions beyond your own immediate convenience.


  37. davcefai

    A Question of balance

    It isn't simply the fact that a species has become extinct, I agree that all species become extinct with time. However this species is probably the first large animal to have been destroyed as "collateral damage".

    The dolphins were not hunted to extinction like the Dodo but were inadvertently caught by fishermen. This time round we wiped out a Dolphin species. Next time it might be something with a nasty (to humans) knock-on effect.

    I'm sure that some of the "so what" posters above spend a lot of time tuning their servers, car engines or whatever. Pity they cannot extrapolate this sort of activity to the whole earth.

  38. El Regular


    Nature is a web of interconnected life, and we, humans are just as dependant. It isn't simply a case species relying on the ecology, it's the other way around. For every species that dies out, everything and anything around it is affected. In effect, each species pegs down part of that web of life, each species that goes, part of the web COLLAPSES. Sometimes it's fairly localised, sometimes it is catastrophic.

    Every species counts, bio-diversity = bio-stability.

  39. Graham Bartlett

    Extinction a sign of the times

    Re Anon and Idgarad:

    Does it matter if this particular species goes extinct because humans have killed it off? That really depends on what the species was doing before people got involved. The crucial part of the word "ecosystem" is the last half - "system". In other words, there are connections between all bits of it, and if you kill off one part then it might (and usually does) have an effect on the rest. Nature will still reach some kind of equilibrium, but the resulting equilibrium might not be as suitable for people.

    In Europe, we mostly killed off bears and wolves over the last few centuries. Result? Proliferation of foxes, which farmers now have to go out and kill themselves. In India, they've just recently stopped using a pesticide which was killing vultures, but they lost most of their vulture population before they stopped. Result? Dead things tend to just stay around and rot (and hence act as disease vectors) because that area's dead-stuff-disposal-system was based around vultures doing most of it.

    Or vice versa, humans introduce a new species. In Australia, rabbits and cane toads ruined (and still do ruin) crops, requiring farmers to go out and kill them with poison/guns/whatever. Flatworms that hit the UK in the compost of imported tropical plants are eating their way through native worms, and UK agriculture is massively reliant on worms to aerate the soil - we still don't have a solution to this one.

    I personally think that concern for nature should go deeper. But even if you don't feel any affinity for nature, the fact that your food, clothing, air and water come from nature should set up some kind of self-interest.

    Maybe you think it doesn't matter because it's China? Well I can promise you that if food costs go up in China because the environment's screwed there, the cost of the goods you buy that were made in China will also go up.

  40. J

    re: So?

    Adding to the chorus: since it's all just a waste of time, would you please just kill yourself and be done with it ASAP, please, anonymous coward (and friends)? *That* would be a worthwhile extinction, methinks.

    And if you're uninformed (or stupid) enough to really believe we "failed to conserve" instead of "extinguished" whatever species, cuddly or otherwise, then you're beyond hope and should just shut up and stop making yourself look bad (and immoral). Oh, that's right, you're anonymous coward, so why care...

  41. chris

    Not just cute animal fixation

    There is some justification for being more concerned about the extinction of a large mammal than a bacteria. Bacteria reproduce and mutate extremely rapidly. If one species disappears, that's ok there will be another one along in a minute.

    The more large and complex a creature is, the slower it tends to breed and the more likely it is that a mutation will render it non-viable. AFAIK, there have been no new cetacean species in the last few hundred years so we should be concerned that we have removed this one.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Human Arrogance

    Wow, it really does amaze me the level of human arrogance in these posts. You all attack the "So?" commenter as doom and gloom... but in reality, you are all a bunch of idealizing, anthropomorphizing hypocrites.

    Wake up people, the Earth has been around about 99% longer than we have been on it. There have been mass extinctions before, and there will be more. For those that like to argue "it's different this time, because we caused it!", you truly don't understand how natural selection works.

    Newsflash: we are a part of the natural selection process, and have been since we started walking on two legs. You act as if somehow humanity is separate from the rest of nature -- as if when "nature" (in other words everything that ISN'T humanity) causes extinction, it's no problem (that's just "nature" or "natural") ... but humanity, oh hell if we are the causes then all hell breaks loose.

    Please. Get over your own arrogance about your place in the world. Just because humanity causes extinction doesn't make it any less natural then if it was because some population of T-Rex's did it millions of years ago.

    "Nature" (as this concept of something external to humanity), doesn't exist. Period. There's no "right" or "wrong" involved with extinction events unless there is a deliberate moral choice. Just as there is no "right" or "wrong" involved when people die, unless there is a deliberate, moral choice.

    Yes, in fact, the motives do matter. Life, nature, and everything around us that we are a part of, is nothing if not a series of unintended consequences. A butterfly flapping it's wings and all that. Should we stop everything we are doing because we aren't sure what the consequences are?

    Stop driving, you're killing fish in a stream. Stop paving roads, you're edging out the habitats of countless species. Stop using electricity, you're damaging the environment in the way it's produced (even solar and wind power require land to be abused). Stop using the internet, as we're killing species of coral by laying massive fiber cables along the ocean floor.

    There is no way to avoid any of this, unless you stop progress entirely, which would in the end take a human extinction event. If you are reading this, if you are posting here, then you are just as involved in extinction events as anyone on the Yangtze. Typical that a bunch of people in the "enlightened" west would bash on a bunch of people in the East for something like this. Arrogance, plain and simple.

    Grow up, stop whining, and realize you're all just as responsible for this kind of thing, and that's just how nature works.

  43. Sean Thompson

    part of nature

    Somewhere there is a superior alien civilization looking down on us and not stopping the human induced pollution of our earth because they do not want to interrupt our ever changing environment and cyclic ecosystem.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Andrew Kelly

    How clever are dolphins?

    Clever enough to have worked out that they can just mess around in the water having a good time while we invent the wheel, New York, wars etc.

  45. davcefai

    re: Human Arrogance

    The Earth has been around longer much than 99% of the time we have been on it. There is no way we are going to destroy the Earth. What we are doing is destroying *ourselves*.

    The remainder of the arrogant post is hardly worth commenting on.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    bad conditions...

    you buy your cheap imported goods from China where their working conditions are pre-victorian and their waste output is as toxic as our industrial revolution days. sooner or later those cheap goods are going to blight something or somebody.

  47. MTT

    re: Human Arrogance

    @ davcefai

    "The remainder of the arrogant post is hardly worth commenting on."

    Arrogant post? He/she was spot on in calling out hypocritical posters here. Moreover, the bit about how humans tend to remove our actions from natural selection is also completely accurate, and a major mistake that even some scientists make at times. Personally, I believe this stems from the a pseudo-religious view of the human place in the cosmos, one that assumes humanity's primacy in nature and therefore requires externalities to nature for all human actions.

  48. David

    What a waste

    There goes the cure for cancer.

    That dolphin also knew what the meaning of life was, if only we were able to communicate with it before its demise.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No chance to see.

    From memory Douglas Adams failed to see any dolphins - even in the 'dolphin sanctuary' because the Yangtze is naturally yellow with something like zero visability.

    Scientists in boats have failed to find any dolphins using binoculars and microphones - so it is extinct.

    The dolphins had a hard time finding each other at the best of times, but the noise from boats made matters worse. Pollution and fishing also played their part.

    They also had a long reproductive cycle or something - It seems evolution favours the Vicky Pollards of the planet.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Human Arrogance

    Dont feed the anonymous trolls guys, we need a comment system where anonymous coward posts only show to those who wish to see them.

    Human influenced selection is *Not* natural selection. Natural selection is a procees that by definition is a result of random, unplanned events, not the result of one species stupidity. Of course the arrogance which they decry is actually their own. Morons

  51. J

    re: Human Arrogance

    Oh, yeah, another anonymous coward... Or maybe it's the same one, given the writing style.

    Anyway, saying that we're just part of nature and all that is all very well and factual, but that does not mean that we have the same status as the other creatures around us. Hypocrisy, maybe. But pseudo-religious views my arse, that's insulting to a practicing atheist like me. It just happens to be the case that, having a brain, some people noticed that we are "special" (like all other "species") in a certain way: we can, to a point that's unparalleled in nature, understand the past, control the present and foresee the consequences events (caused by us or otherwise). Well, some of us do at any rate. Those are powers only WE humans have in this planet, as far as we know. These powers enable us to have morality. And wasn't it that with great power comes great responsibility? Maybe it's more the case that power corrupts but absolute power...

    Anyway, as David and some others quickly referred to above, we ALSO have self interest to keep as much biodiversity as possible around! Who knows what secrets the organism of that dolphin could have harbored? A cure? Inspiration for some amazing new material or technology? Too bad, one less place to look now.

    Keep paving everything, as someone said, grow your economy like this forever. You can't eat money, did you know that?

  52. Aubry Thonon

    Re: 2010

    "As said in 2010,..."

    Oh man, I *knew* I shouldn't have drunk so much... er... last night(?). I seem to have lost 3+ years' worth of memory. |^(

  53. Spadge Fromley


    Personally, I think it's sad that a species like this should go the way of the great awk (I always sed it would happen?).

    And I love the shock "don't give a damn" posts. One can only hope that anyone who really feels that way has the expected breeding habits and removes themselves from the genepool ... unless some kind of human/kleenex hybrid is looming on the evolutionary horizon.

    I don't think it really matters where it happens though, China or not. It just happened, and it's sad. It probably needs mentioning that fresh-water mamals aren't exactly sea-side fluffy creatures, unless we're talking about fresh-water seas - and last I heard, those were called lakes.

    As to human-influenced selection not being natural selection, I'm not so sure; we are animals, and a part of nature, surely? Discuss. If leopards (beware them!) eat all the, erm, whatever leopards eat, stoats or something, do we say that's not natural because it's leopard-influenced? Or do we consider ourselves to be above nature, and isn't that rather the problem, really?


  54. ryan

    Moral problem?

    If it is at all possible to strip out emotion and look at fundamentals: Yes, life on earth will go on with or without us someday. Sure, even that life will be doomed in the distant future. Humans are a species that are a byproduct of the environment just like every other species and we are dependent on the system for prolonged survival as a species. The rules haven't changed. New animals migrate into an area, or else some subset evolves beneficial traits for survival and other animals go extent as a result. Nature made us what we are, and what we are is causing extinctions.

    However, we are different because our effect on the system is greater then then any other species the system has ever encountered. If we can not strictly say that current extinctions are non-natural, we can say that they are non-normal. We are throwing the whole system out of balance. It will regain balance one way or another regardless of our actions. That balance may be an ecology of humans, rats, pigeons and cockroaches only, or it could be a world with no humans and rich biodiversity. The curious thing about the current system is that we, as the major predator, can understand the system (to a degree) and modify our actions to effect the eventual balance point (to a degree.) We have the potential to mitigate our effect on our environment.

    This potential is why extinctions are a moral issue. We are choosing to do things that we know negatively effect life around us, be it human or animal. From here we can endlessly argue morality, but we can't shrug of responsibility. We can not wright off species because they did not evolve quick enough when we make decisions that modify their environment faster then process of evolution can cope with. We can not ignore an extinction because they would have died out tomorrow, when our choices made them die out today. Above all we can not abdicate our responsibility just because we ourselves are products of the ecology. It is the traits that evolution bred into us that have allowed us to dominate the environment, and it is those same traits that allow us to mitigate our own destructive tendencies.

    Ultimately I see my own hypocrisy. My standard of living is the product of a lot of environmental destruction. But, I won't excuse myself ether. We are diminished when a spiecies goes extinct and we have only ourselves to blame.

    My $.015.

  55. MTT

    re: Human arrogance

    @ Dave,

    quote: "Human influenced selection is *Not* natural selection. Natural selection is a procees that by definition is a result of random, unplanned events, not the result of one species stupidity."

    You are mistaking random mutation with natural selection. Nice try, but I'm afraid that you are guilty of exactly the type of arrogance that the "anonymous coward" was pointing out.

    We are not special. We are not above natural law. Evolution does not occur around us while we sit idly by in the high watchtower. Everything we do influences the course of natural selection, and is not separate from other selection pressures that all species must survive. The minute you start ascribing evolutionary validity based on capability (i.e. humans are sooo much more capable than animals), that's the moment that you ascribe mystical significance to humanity.

    If you go that route, how can you not divide other selection events by animate versus inanimate participation... say, comets killing dinosaurs rather than competition and/or inadequate speciation?

    Think on it for a while, before you go slinging about the "moron" tag so freely.

  56. MTT

    @Spadge Fromley

    @ Spadge Fromley,

    quote:"As to human-influenced selection not being natural selection, I'm not so sure; we are animals, and a part of nature, surely? Discuss. If leopards (beware them!) eat all the, erm, whatever leopards eat, stoats or something, do we say that's not natural because it's leopard-influenced? Or do we consider ourselves to be above nature, and isn't that rather the problem, really?"

    Exactly the point; spot on. That is the problem, and we would all do better to act as if everything we do influences the course of evolution at all levels. The consequences of our actions are not something that PC things like carbon banking, arbor day, and "save the Whales" fund raisers can easily undo. It would be nice wunna'it?

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anonymous cowards

    Sure. Us people who post anonymously are cowards. Especially on a forum full of self-proclaimed hacking experts (or even gods, as at least one individual has described himself on other discussion areas. Nice to see the "I'm great and must tell everyone" attitude is not just limited to The Register.) Or in a climate where publicly aired views can come back to haunt one during job searches, for example. Why blat your information out if it's not necessary? Is there any particular reason why you want to know people's names? And as for being scorned - well, do you think anyone really cares? Well more than enough to try to point out how pointless your complaints are? Or laughable when you only post your first name (or given/middle/Christian/whatever, or an initial yourself? Off-topic on this discussion, but thought I'd comment anyway. Just chose this one out of an increasing number of choices where it's happening.

  58. the Jim bloke

    Ryans $0.15 has been the most value so far

    This event at this time is a result of human activity. Disregarding all the crap about how clever dolphins are, or how evil the chinese capitalist pigs may be and the other irrelevant bumf, Human activity altered the environment to the point a previously succesful species is extinct. This has happened before, and is happening now, and will continue to happen.

    Species become extinct as they fail to cope with environmental changes, other species adapt, diversify and fill available gaps as they can. The issue is that human action is altering the environment faster than most sophisticated species can adapt. We wont destroy life on earth, but we might prune it back to shrimps, lichens and algae.

    Any extinction we are responsible for is a bad thing - except possibly the anopheles mosquito , but its likely to be a survivor - we need to accept that the fate of 'creation' does actually rest in our hands, even if no god was silly enough to actually give us lordship over the beasts and the fields.

    We did it

    it was a bad thing

    lets try to avoid doing it again.

    PS "Anonymous Coward" is a Slashdottism, not a Registery

  59. WeeDom


    Anonymity gives the appearance that the poster is trying to avoid taking personal responsibility for their comments. That's what annoys folk...

    Real names aren't necessary. Just some sort of tag to say "I wrote this".

  60. Sean Aaron

    anonymous posting should be banned.

    It really dilutes the conversation; anyone without the guts to identify themselves in a forum like this shouldn't be allowed to post, period. If we were living in a police state, even the anonymous could be tracked down, and that's the only viable excuse I can think of for posting anonymously.

    With regard to the present topic, it's not a great surprise. China is slowly waking up to the fact that unless it has some kind of environmental laws its great industrial expansion isn't going to be sustainable because it'll have rendered it's cities uninhabitable; unfortunately it's not happening quickly enough to save the local river dolphin. More to come as long as our consumer-driven culture continues on its present course.

    With regard to natural selection, etc. I don't think Darwin envisaged human deforestation and river pollution as "natural" drivers, however we are definitely having an impact and some species are becoming quite successful at living off of our detritus: foxes, raccoons, rats, cockroaches, pigeons, peregrine falcons and other species live in our quite unnatural cities and do well.

    As others have stated however, someday we're going to knock off the wrong species and potentially cause a food web collapse. Hell, look at the North Sea cod, indeed our cavalier attitudes towards the ocean are probably what will bite us in the backsides first because fishermen and politicians won't take action until it's too late. I guess Newfoundland wasn't clear enough for people.

    Humans are a part of the natural world, and we are subject to evolutionary pressures just like everything else, but unlike us, other predatory species live more in balance with their environments. You don't see leopards wiping out other species because when their food gets scarce you get less leopards (they have a low birth rate anyway and are highly territorial with limited territory thanks to human activity, so they're just not a good example in the first place). Humans just spread over the planet or start consuming something else. This is the behaviour that needs to stop, but since everybody seems to like what the holy Market Economy is doing, that's unlikely, isn't it?

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    we will all die

    I am amazed (read "disappointed") at those people who don't care about animals being extinct, ecosystems being destroyed, etc, just because "well, it's evolution" or "when the Sun eats the Earth it won't matter, anyway". To you I should remind you that we are all going to die, so I guess you won't mind dying tomorrow, or maybe having some painful illness that kills you very slowly. Following your own reasoning, it doesn't matter right?

    You might not mind living in a world where everything is concrete, polluted rivers, and dead sand. But don't assume that the rest of us want to live just a poor and boring life, so don't carry us there.

    Yet another anonymous post.

  62. ted

    It's the symbolism

    We are part of the evolutionary process. This whole planet is going to melt when the Sun gets fat.

    Maybe our gene line will make it off the Earth, I hope so. If that's to happen we'd better start maximising the time we have left to develope technologies. If that's to happen we'd better start looking after our environment. We'll only care for the environment by seeing Our place in it as what it is. Letting a creature we are arguabley close to, (in terms of mental faculty), just dissappear doesn't bode well for Us not just disappearing.


    what's with the $.015? The dollar is in precipitous decline, we need _more_ than two cents worth these days...

  63. Paul


    "Sure. Us people who post anonymously are cowards. Especially on a forum full of self-proclaimed hacking experts"

    That makes no since.

    1) No we/they dont. This is not a Hax0r site.

    2) You realy think that hiding you user name makes FA difference? No one could trace you from that.

    3) The point is you back up your views and are willing to show they are yours. If someone dose find out these views are mine in a job search I am adult enough to stand up and accept the consequences of what I have said, especially if my view has not changed.

    4) Im sorry, but I cant resist. Anon, you’re an idiot.

    BTW I do post anon at times. When I am posting a joke which some people wont get, or when imp poking fun at fanons, as they will flame you every time you post on anything if you piss them off.

  64. Clovis

    murder and extinction

    I don't see the equivalence between murdering someone and not devoting myself to maximising their probability of reproducing. But whatever.

    Those of you who thought this dolphin was worth saving should be ashamed of yourself for letting it become extinct. You have more than enough money to have preserved it, but chose not to. Instead, you prefer to shout and cast blame on others. Ranting about 'our' failure does not impress me. I don't care about this dolphin, nor do I feel any obligation to respect your rather ineffectual environmental principles.

    Ranting that 'we' should take action to prevent similar extinctions in future is also a rather uninspiring approach, compared to say, doing something yourseves. Particularly since you seem to be implying that Chinese people living in abject poverty should have made the effort to save this dolphin, rather than some other group of 'we' with more comfortable lifestyles.

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    people named J and Dave calling anon a coward... I do believe that J or Dave would be considered anonymous.

    However instead of a member of the legion - J and Dave are evidently anonymous retards instead.

    As to the Dolphin - anon doesn't care. Anon will put on an afro and close their river as a celebration.

    Whilst Envirotards are crying about dolphin Anon will save money, buy a boat and live a happy life while Envirotards drown in their apocolyptical floods.

  66. Ian Stuart

    ... and in other news

    "An expedition to a remote forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo has uncovered six new animal species."

    Nothing stands still, things come and go.

    Some things mutate and evolve, other die out because of "natural selection" (or even Human-assisted natural selection)

    Personally, we should be concerned that this has happened. Not because some species as croaked (forgive the pun), but because whatever knocked off the dolphin is probably also trying to knock off humans

    (mind you, China's not exactly short when it comes to people-supplies)

  67. Ronan Tumelty


    "Those of you who thought this dolphin was worth saving should be ashamed of yourself for letting it become extinct. You have more than enough money to have preserved it, but chose not to."

    That's a bit of a stupid compliment. Conservation requires much more than just money. It requires time, organisation, a suitable alternate habitat in which the dolphin would have thrived with minimal detriment to the rest of the ecosystem (and zoos can't help an animal thrive anywhere near as much as it would in a natural habitat), and countless other factors. It also requires highly specialised knowledge.

    I know that I don't have or have access to most of those things. Very few people do. A concerted effort is the only way that a conservation attempt could be achieved. I believe that the recent search was a precursor for such an effort; unfortunately, it came a bit too late.

    It's all very well to say "you should have done something about it", but if it were that easy, we wouldn't have to worry about situations like this.

  68. Robert Hirst


    "I don't see the equivalence between murdering someone and not devoting myself to maximising their probability of reproducing. But whatever."

    Well, since I was the first to use the word murder, I'll respond.

    You don't see the equivalence between the argument that it doesn't matter how or why (dolphin) individuals are wiped out, and saying that it doesn't matter how or why (human) individuals are wiped out?

    That's the context which I spoke in. I wasn't suggesting that tearing dolphins to pieces by human trawling with unbaited hooks (which many were), hunting or removing their food supply so they slowly starved whilst pumping their environment full of pollution and chemicals causing them to go blind was murder. I was responding to the ridiculous suggestion that we have no responsibility for our actions because sun is dying and the universe will one day crunch.

    "I don't care about this dolphin, nor do I feel any obligation to respect your rather ineffectual environmental principles."

    If Karma works then you'll be due some neighbours who can teach you what it's -really- like living near someone who doesn't respect -your- rather ineffectual environmental principles.

  69. Bill Coleman

    @So What and the others, re. professional trolling

    wow, that really was some pretty good trolling. Kudos!

    I am worried about china and India though... they are undergoing an industrial revolution of the same intensity of england 150 years ago but at a far accelerated pace and vastly larger scale. Coal burning power stations, completely polluted ground water supply, chemicals and toxic waste. Over population, over-intensive farming methods and an either ignorance of or indifference to the total destruction of their country.

    If they were a small Island, I'd say let them to it - but their vast size and their unique biodiversity means that they are in a position to not only kill off the a substantial portion of the bio-heritage of the planet but also contribute significantly to global pollution and the destruction of ecosystems around the globe.

  70. Lloyd


    If an alien race were to start dumping all of their waste on our little blue/green planet and it obliterated the human race, it would be natural selection would it?

  71. Ben

    Why is human selection different to other natural selection?

    If you regard humans as part of the natural world, and their activities (including industry and so on) as natural, then as other posters have said, this begs the question: why don't we just regard the loss of this dolphin as natural selection and move on?

    The answer is that we are fully aware of the consequences of our actions. We understand evolution, we understand ecosystems, and we are able to monitor impending losses and intervene to prevent them - if we want to.

    And that is the key, really. Assuming there is no selfish reason for wanting to save a species, such as it having a vital role in our ecosystem or the threat of going to hell for not looking after god's creatures, then it is up to us to decide what is worth saving, or not actively driving to extinction.

    This dolphin is the product of billions of years of evolution, a process which cannot be repeated. It is the end product of millennia of struggle and success, and what's more it is a particularly special end product. There are not millions of other very similar species, as with bacteria or insects. To see it wiped out in my lifetime is tremendously sad to me. And, I hope, to most others.

    Those who disagree are entitled to their opinion, however my guess is they will find themselves increasingly isolated as time goes by, and the scale of the destruction caused by human activity becomes more apparent.

  72. John A Blackley


    Hmm. I wonder - if I could stretch my imagination for a minute - if, during the Industrial Revolution, we had television, radio, telephones and the interwebthingy (and, apparently, enough leisure time to blat on about our personal opinions all day)........I wonder if there would've been millions of Indians and Chinese saying they're worried about the amount of polluting being done by Britain.

    Would they have chuntered on about the species we made extinct - and does anyone know how many species were made extinct during that period?

    Just wondering - but not anonymously.

  73. El Regular

    is technology natural?

    Technology I see is a form of evolution, simply a removed and accelerated form. It is human induced but extinction as a result of technology is a form of natural selection, therefore.

    Question is, is it right?

    People complain and protest intentional abuses of humnans and animals. But unintentional abuse tends to evade our consciences, because we are only generally conscious of what we mean to do and the benefits to we humans.

    On Christmas Island, humans over-populated and slaughtered eachother for crops and livestock. Eventually turning to cannibalism to survive the burnt out landscape (since regenerated). Eventually, presumably, dying out.

    In New Zealand, the Maori hunted the Goa bird to extinction, their staple food source. Elders (leaders, for their wisdom and experience, not amounts of financial backing) decreed that every species that was taken as food was to be cared for to ensure that the extinctions would not continue.

    Two microcosms, Are we Christmas Islanders? or Maori? (metaphoricaly, before anyone starts talking genetics)

  74. MTT

    is technology natural?

    @ Lloyd (and El Regular, just a bit)

    quote: "If an alien race were to start dumping all of their waste on our little blue/green planet and it obliterated the human race, it would be natural selection would it?"

    Yes, Lloyd. When hominids first learned to use tools, it separated them from other species that did not learn similar skills. We consider that a clear example of adaptation to selective pressure. It then follows that technology, no matter how crude its form may be, is part of the evolutionary equation. Along with technology comes waste/refuse... and supposing that your hypothetical aliens used out planet as a dumping ground, t hen our respective monkey asses better get up and learn some new skills.

    However, I suspect you are appealing to the "golden rule" notion of morality. We wouldn't want a superior species to pollute us out of existence, to be sure. My objection is that, while I agree with the sentiment (I have no desire to be crapped on by space worms until my lineage is forever blotted from existence), I must object to the idea that our motivation to action should be defined by my (our?) "morality" ... to do so is selfish in a non-darwinian sense. Darwinian selfishness aids all of humanity, with the possible extension to species closely related to ours. Moral selfishness (i,e. don't do this because *I* wouldn't like it done to *me*), is sometimes selective *within* the species, and as such, serves to thin the herd not based on fitness but on debatable and arbitrary lines of choice.

  75. J


    I thought of not feeding the troll but couldn't resist after all... Anonymous cowardly idiot wrote:

    "I do believe that J or Dave would be considered anonymous."

    Er... How is that anonymous, dimwit? I am J, am I not? (and by the way, that's how people call me due to unpronounceable first name, and my last name in there is real too). If I wasn't, you wouldn't be able to answer to ME. What's anonymous about that? Or do you think anybody here is stupid enough to mean posters should give their IP/ Social Security/ telephone/ whatever numbers? Anyway, it does not matter what name you use, as someone said above. Wanna call yourself Minnie Mouse, fine with me. Want to be a cowardly, "anonymous" (with quotes, better for you?) juvenile troll hiding behind your keyboard? Sad.

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