Monday, May 17, 2010

Wonders of the Yangtze River

Or rather they WERE

I heard about the Chinese paddlefish not long ago, thanks to a homemade video tour of the Bristol Zoo I found online, and since I knew a bit about American Paddlefish of the Mississippi Valley from my time in Oklahoma, I was curious.
Paddlefishes are a representative of a very ancient group of fishes, one which was swimming with the dinosaurs. They aren't the oldest by far, but are certainly noteworthy. Along with sturgeons, they are a stepping stone toward the modern bony fishes, but fall short of the distinction. Like the older sharks, they have a mostly cartilaginous skeleton and other primitive characteristics.
If you have never heard of paddlefishes, please do not feel bad. I had paid any attention until I went to Oklahoma one of the places they they live, and later I saw one in an aquarium. Impressive stately creatures and awingly primordial. Then, I did not even realize that there was a Yangtze version of the paddlefish until this month, although I had the impression there were more species than the American one. (with nice photos!)

Lo and behold, another missing wonder from the Yangtze River of China. Again, a victim of intense pollution and population stressors, no doubt.

The reason I say "another" is I heard of a much more appalling disappearance not long ago: the baiji, or Yangtze river dolphin
Why this is important: The baiji is the first large vertebrate to go extinct in my lifetime, if I have read right.

The Yangtze River is starting to sound like an aquatic graveyard. I'm sure there is much more ecologic damage than I am aware of, being only passingly familiar with Chinese biomes.

The Chinese Paddlefish is apparently more visably related to the sharks. To me, it looks more like a sturgeon than a American paddlefish, which may be why recent "sightings" have been shown to be of sturgeon. It is supposed to have been one (if not the) largest freshwater fish in the world. No wonder it is also known as the Chinese swordfish! If you find pictures, you'll see what I mean, such as here:

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