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China Declares Large Paddlefish Species Extinct

In this Nov. 11, 2016, photo provided by the Museum of Hydrobiological Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a Chinese paddlefish specimen made in 1990 is seen on display at the Museum of Hydrobiological Science.
China Declares Large Paddlefish Species Extinct
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The Chinese paddlefish – one of the world’s largest freshwater fish – has been declared extinct.

Scientists say the paddlefish, also called the Chinese swordfish, is believed to have a lineage dating back at least 34 million years. With its long nose and mouth, the paddlefish could grow as long as seven meters.

But a research paper recently published in Science of The Total Environment reported the paddlefish was now extinct. The researchers include scientists from the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, Britain’s University of Kent and the University of South Bohemia in the Czech Republic.

The paper says the paddlefish was declared extinct for two reasons. None of the animals is known to exist in captivity and no living paddlefish tissues had been saved. The paper states that the fish was not able to survive widespread overfishing and damage to its native environment in the Yangtze River.

The scientists said the Chinese paddlefish had suffered major drops in population since the 1970s. The drops came as major dam building projects were carried out along the Yangtze.

Building of the Gezhouba Dam began in 1970 and was completed in 1988. The massive Three Gorges project was completed in 2003 - the last year a live Chinese paddlefish was seen.

Researchers discovered 332 different species of fish in the Yangtze in 2017 and 2018. But they did not find a single Chinese paddlefish. They estimate the fish disappeared between 2005 and 2010.

Pan Wenjing is a forest and oceans expert with Greenpeace East Asia. She told The Associated Press the extinction of the Chinese paddlefish was “a huge loss” for nature. She said the development confirms that the Yangtze River is experiencing major environmental damage.

“The ecology of the Yangtze River is close to collapse due to human activity in past decades,” Pan said. She noted that China had launched a campaign to find ways to repair the Yangtze’s environment, including a 10-year ban on fishing..

After the extinction was reported in the news, some Chinese media and internet users took a look back at the large creatures. Many people appeared to have not heard of the Chinese paddlefish before it was declared extinct.

“It’s farewell at first sight,” reported the official China Youth Daily. Many internet users shared similar feelings on social media services like China’s Weibo. But some expressed hope that a Chinese paddlefish might still be discovered in the river.

“Every time I see the news of another species going extinct, my heart starts to throb,” wrote one Weibo user. “Humans should not live alone on this planet,” the user added.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press and Science of The Total Environment. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

extinct adj. no longer existing or living

species n. a group of animals or plants that are similar and can produce young animals or plants

due to phr. because of something

decade n. a period of ten years

farewell n. goodbye

throb v. to beat with a strong, regular rhythm