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Science 23 March 2007: Science Magazine
Letters
The Loss of a Valuable Dolphin

Jerry Guo's article "River dolphins down for the count, and perhaps out" (News of the Week, 22 Dec. 2006, p. 1860) revealed no sightings of a baiji dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) during a recent comprehensive survey. If, as expected, this species is truly extinct, then the loss to both the natural and physical sciences is more profound than most realize. This animal is one of only two species of river dolphins (the other being the Ganges river dolphin, Platanista gangetica) that, although bereft of vision and olfactory sense, are able to migrate, locate prey, and find mates while navigating in a highly dynamic riverine environment (1). The biology of both species is poorly known. However, insight into their biology could be expected to lead to advancements in acoustic-based sensors, geolocation, and navigation in extreme environments, as well as the development of technologies to assist vision-impaired persons.
   


CREDIT: N. GARDEN/SURVIVAL/OSF/ANIMALS ANIMALS

The loss of this organism highlights the need for unbiased prioritization of conservation biology projects within the scientific community. Broader scientific potential contributions need to be considered in addition to general ecosystem health. Perhaps, other species at risk would receive more attention if the ramifications of their demise were better presented to the public.
Michael D. Kass
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Oak Ridge, TN 37831, USA

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