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Learning English - Words in the News
08 August, 2007 - Published 14:28 GMT
China dolphin extinction
Yangtze river dolphin (image: Stephen Leatherwood)

The long-threatened Yangtze river dolphin in China is probably extinct, according to an international team of researchers. They say this marks the first whale or dolphin to be wiped out because of human activity. This report from Quentin Sommerville:

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There is every likelihood that the Yangtze river dolphin is extinct, according to the Zoological Society of London. The society participated in an international survey which examined over 1,500 kilometres of the river last year and failed to find a single baiji dolphin. Back in the late 1990s a similar survey found thirteen live dolphins. In the 1950s their population numbered in the thousands.

China's rapid modernisation is blamed for the dolphin's demise. Industrial pollution, heavy river traffic and the construction of the Three Gorges dam are thought to have killed many.

However, the World Conservation Union says that an animal can only be declared extinct if it hasn't been found in the wild for fifty years. The last confirmed sighting of the baiji dolphin was five years ago, although there have been unconfirmed sightings since then.

But even if a number of the dolphins have survived, they and other freshwater animals, like the Yangtze finless porpoise, are in serious danger of disappearing forever.

Quentin Sommerville, BBC News, Beijing

Listen to the words

There is every likelihood
it is expected or very likely

is extinct
doesn't exist anymore, has died out

an international survey
a review, study or report written by people from different counties

failed to find a single
didn't find even one

rapid modernisation
quickly becoming modern and industrialised

end, extinction

Industrial pollution
fumes and dirt from factories

said by an official body (here, the World Conservation Union)

in the wild
in the natural setting for an animal (not in a zoo or someone's house as a pet)

confirmed sighting
more than one person said that they had seen a particular thing (here, a dolphin)

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