Yangtze River dolphins, once called the goddesses of the Yangtze, are critically endangered. This species of freshwater dolphins, one of the seven the world, live only in the great Yangtze River that flows nearly 4,000 miles from the plateu of Tibet south to Shanghai and the Pacific Ocean. Also called Baiji, these creatures once were found in large numbers. As China became more industrialized and fishing operations increased, the population dwindled to tiny numbers.
Like the pink dolphins of the Amazon, the Yangtze River dolphins need fresh water to survive. A male dolphin can reach as long as 7.5 feet and weight as much as 300 to 500 pounds. The females are smaller, as is expected. Some of the dolphins were clocked as fast as 60 kilometers (37 miles per hour), navigating by the advanced facilities of a dolphin—a kind of sonar—along with an advanced intelligence.
While you can’t expect to see Baiji dolphins on Yangtze River cruises, you can expect to see some amazing sights along the way. As the river makes it way from the source to the Pacific, it flows through habitats as diverse as wetlands, glaciers and rainforests. Some of the habitat provides a home for giant pandas, some of the only places these amazing creatures live in the wild. Countless migratory birds cross the home of the Yangtze River dolphins, including most of the world’s popular of Siberian cranes. More the 200 species of fish swim in the waters of the river, and nearly 100 types of reptiles are found along the shores of the third longest river on earth.