A large white animal, swimming in the Yangtze River, has been videotaped by a Chinese man.

The animal, scientists state, belongs to a dolphin species unique to China and feared extinct.

That was made official by Chinese authorities last Wednesday.

An international team failed to find a single baiji, the name given to the long-beaked, nearly blind dolphin, on a 38-day search along the Yangtze in November-December 2006, and the last confirmed sighting of the dolphin was in 2004 (http://www.baiji.org/expeditions/1/overview.html).

Consequently, the species has been classified as critically endangered and possibly (or even “functionally”) extinct.

So the videotape taken by Zeng Yujiang, the man who saw the baiji, may perhaps renew slim hopes for the survival of the creature, traditionally viewed as a deity by local people but whose extinction would have been attributed to human action.

Yujiang has to admit “I never saw such a big thing in the water before, so I filmed it” before adding that “it jumped out of water several times”.

In the beginning of the 20th century, 5000 baijis were to be found in China. In 1990 they were 200, and only 7 have been seen in 1998.

Karen Baragona, in charge of the WWF’s Yangtze River basin program, expresses hopes that the Baiji will not go the way of the dodo bird, pointing the fact that some species have been brought back from the brink of extinction, like the white rhinos and the southern right whale.

Wang Ding, a leading expert on the species from the hydrobiology institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences speaks for the conservationists, stating that “we are very glad to see Baiji still exist in the world”.

In Switzerland, August Pfluger, a noted Baiji expert and head of Swiss Baiji.org, says “we declared the animal extinct so if there is one left, that would be fantastic”.