Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Goddess of the Yangtze

The baiji, a rare species of freshwater dolphin, has been declared extinct:

The baiji dates back 20 million years. Chinese called it the "goddess of the Yangtze." For China, its disappearance symbolizes how unbridled economic growth is changing the country's environment irreparably....

Around 400 baiji were believed to be living in the Yangtze in the early 1980s, when China was just launching the free-market reforms that have transformed its economy. The last full-fledged search, in 1997, yielded 13 confirmed sightings, and a fisherman claimed to have seen a baiji in 2004.
On the bright side, it's been immortalized on this bottlecap:

Clearly, the baiji failed to adapt. Only a lunatic would suggest that we've failed to adapt to the world that sustained it for 20 million years. The baiji was unfit, but we're not. That's obvious, isn't it?

Here's Matthew Scully in Dominion:
In a strange way the more insistent human beings are of our singularity among creatures, the more aggressive and vocal in denigrating animals, the more indistinct and small we ourselves come to seem. And somehow the more humble we are in outlook, the more attentive and appreciative of the life around us, the more acutely we will feel our uniqueness and the special calling it brings.
UPDATE: You can listen to baiji sounds here. Bookmark it for your kids, so that they'll know what "the first large mammal brought to extinction as a result of human destruction to their natural habitat" sounded like. (Via


Eli said...

Goddess is dead.

Anonymous said...

What a damned shame... I have to believe that if there is a God, he's tearing his hair out as he watches us.

Phila said...


It's funny...the conservative's God will smite you with boils for any number of comparatively minor missteps, but apparently has no problem with us hounding His creatures into extinction.

As sick and awful as those folks are, the libertarians are a lot worse. Over at Volokh, there was a guy saying "If it doesn't taste good, and doesn't say 'woof' on command, I don't care if it goes extinct or not." A couple of commenters remonstrated with him, mildly, but none of them managed to make the simple, self-interested argument that what harms animals may end up harming us. Their degree of alienation is absolutely mindboggling. As a political philosophy, it's about as realistic as Breatharianism.

Anonymous said...

I used to spend quite a bit of time reading sailing articles and forums, and there was a kind of loose consensus that dolphins were the closest thing to God (or God-ness) you could find on the planet.

Philosophically, I keep waivering between two positions about Man's place on the Planet - but I usually end up on the side of "We have no Right" to treat the Earth the way we do. Our behavior, generally speaking, smacks of such narrow vision, lack of awareness and pure ingratitude that we should be ashamed to speak God's name or look at the sky.

I know that I have a lot of work to do before I could call myself a perfect friend of the Planet, but I don't go out of my way to cause harm and I have at least a minimal sense of empathy and gratitude while I'm anchored to our little rock.

We have so much to (re)learn and so much work to do...

Phila said...


Wow... survived 20 million years and then it took us only 20 years to kill them off. That is simply amazing to think about.

I'm sure the extinction process got started much earlier in the 20th century, if not before that. Still, it's the blink of an eye against the number of years the baiji survived.

Our economic dogma goes back a few hundred years, at the most. But it's been naturalized and eternalized to such an extent that I shudder to think how many more extinctions it'd take to overthrow it. I agree strongly with my pal Cervantes on this point:

How to extract this destructive parasite from our public discourse, from our politics, from our academies, from our minds, is one of our greatest challenges as a society.