China’s baiji dolphin has been presumed extinct since 2006 – but conservationists believe they may have spotted the ‘extinct’ dolphin on a recent search mission in the Yangtze River. The beloved dolphin, called the “goddess of the Yangtze,” resided in the river for around 20 million years, and it may be one of the “oldest freshwater mammals” on Earth.

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The baiji dolphin, a freshwater river dolphin, was labeled functionally extinct after a six-week expedition in 2006 couldn’t find even one baiji along the 3,915 miles of the river. Since 2006, its apparent extinction had served as a warning for the consequences of unrestrained human development at the cost of the environment. Pollution, dam-building, over-fishing, even boat traffic had a part to play in the dolphin’s presumed demise.

Related: Eerie driftwood skeletons of extinct Chinese dolphins remind us of human error

Recent expedition leader Song Qi, an amateur conservationist who works as a publisher, said on October 4th that his group and local fishermen glimpsed what they think was a baiji. At first Qi saw a “white dot,” followed by a “white light” that seemed to break the river’s surface. A third and final sighting saw the creature swimming towards the eastern river bank. Qi said local fishermen told him they were “100 percent certain” they had seen a baiji. No one in the group snapped an image that could identify the creature conclusively. Qi told government-supported Chinese news site Sixth Tone: “No other creature could jump out of the Yangtze like that.” He told The Guardian, “I want society to realize the baiji is not extinct.”

Biologist Samuel Turvey isn’t so certain. He wrote the book Witness to Extinction on the devastating effects of human development on the biodiversity of the Yangtze River, which was once described as the “Amazon of the East.” Elephants, giant pandas, gibbons, and two rhinoceros species that once lived there are now gone. He told The Guardian there needs to be “robust proof” if an animal thought to be extinct is found – and “this isn’t it.” Another supposed baiji sighting in 2007 was actually a finless porpoise.

Via The Guardian

Images via screenshot