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Cymraeg

Finless porpoises more endangered than previously thought

12 July 2010

Finless porpoises living in the freshwaters of China’s Yangtze River are more endangered than previously thought, according to the results of a new genetic survey involving Cardiff University.

The survey of groups of finless porpoises from different regions has revealed that the Yangtze finless porpoise is genetically different from its marine counterparts. The researchers are now warning that these results will have major implications for conservation and survival.

The finless porpoise, a type of toothed whale, inhabits a wide range of waters in the Indo-Pacific region. For the purposes of the study, researchers analyzed the genetic structure of groups from the Yangtze River, the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea.

The data revealed significant genetic differences between regions, suggesting that finless porpoises in Chinese waters can actually be classified as three distinct genetic groups. Of these groupings, the Yangtze finless porpoise is the only one adapted for living in freshwater. Previous studies have shown that numbers are in sharp decline and only 1,000 are estimated to remain in the river.

The research was conducted by a team from Nanjing Normal University, China, along with Professor Mike Bruford, Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences.

The study began when Professor Guang Yang, now at Nanjing Normal University, was a Royal Society Incoming Fellow working with Professor Bruford at Cardiff.

Professor Bruford said: "The unique genetic diversity of the Yangtze finless porpoise has major implications for how we tackle conservation. The survey also found that the Yellow Sea porpoises are distinct from those in the South China Sea. Each population group therefore requires separate conservation efforts.

"The population figures in the Yangtze river are decreasing annually and studies suggest that this population may become extinct this century. Special efforts need to be made to protect this rare species from suffering the same fate as the baiji, the Yangtze river dolphin declared extinct in 2007."

-ENDS-

For further information, please contact:

Professor Mike Bruford

School of Biosciences

Cardiff University

BrufordMW@cardiff.ac.uk

Jessica Kelly

Public Relations Office

Cardiff University

029 2087 0298

KellyJA@cardiff.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

Cardiff School of Biosciences

Cardiff’s School of Biosciences holds a world-leading reputation, addressing major questions which face health and life scientists. In 2007, one of its members, Professor Sir Martin Evans, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his ground-breaking discovery of stem cells. Professor Sir Martin has helped build a strong research base in stem cell research and regenerative medicine at the School. Other major research areas include biodiversity and ecology, with significant discoveries about some of the world’s most endangered species. The School also houses the Common Cold Centre, the world’s only centre dedicated to flu and the common cold. The School has achieved top gradings in national, independent ratings of its teaching of biology, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, and its pre-clinical training for doctors and dentists. It also has an extensive programme of public engagement, so that the NHS, industry and the general public can learn more about its research.