Potential Sighting of Yangtze River Dolphin

Yangtze River dolphin / baiji
Image credit: Wikipedia.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the likely extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin, also called the baiji. Today’s New Scientist reported that a video shot by a Chinese man on 19 August may show a baiji, though it is difficult to tell from the quality of the footage. Even if it is a baiji, however, one animal is insufficient to repopulate a species. While it is theoretically possible to repopulate from a single breeding pair of animals, in practice, there is typically not enough genetic diversity for this to be successful. It seems likely that even if this sighting is confirmed, the animal is still “functionally” extinct, and that the inevitable “true” extinction has only been delayed by some years.

What has made this especially poignant is that I’ve been reading a book lent to me by a good friend: Last Chance to See, by Douglas Adams (the author the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and Mark Carwardine. Published in 1990, the documentary is a companion to a BBC radio series highlighting endangered animal species. With his usual wit and humor, Adams narrates their journeys to find these unique creatures. I am just reading the chapter where the group is in China, searching for baijis. Sadly, their effort to draw attention to the plight of the baijis seems to have been futile; less than twenty years later the animal is already extinct or will be so shortly.

At this point, the only potential hope I see is for us to keep the baiji alive long enough (assuming the sighting was real) for us to develop the genetic technology to perpetuate the species. A different part of the book discusses the kakapo, a critically endangered flightless bird found in New Zealand. When Adams asks Don Merton of the New Zealand Department of Conservation about what he thinks the long-term prospects are, he replies:

Well, anything’s possible, and with genetic engineering, who knows. If we can keep them going during our lifespan, it’s over to the next generation with their new range of tools and techniques and science to take it from there. All we can do is perpetuate the during our lifetime and try to hand them on in as good a condition as possible to the next generation and hope like heck that they feel the same way about them as we do. (“Heartbeats in the Night”; p. 142)

It is now up to our generation to develop the science and cultivate the interest to preserve these creatures. And perhaps there is hope: the number of kakapo has apparently doubled since Adams and friends visited New Zealand; there are now eighty-six. And the book, too, lives on in a way; an interested reader maintains a blog following the status of the featured animals and others. (See his entry on the potential sighting of the baiji.)

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Few Americans Reading Books

CNN reports the results of a recent Associated Press–Ipsos poll studying the reading habits of American adults. On the whole, it is mildly disappointing, though not surprising. Among the findings, twenty-seven percent of adults read no books in the past year, and the median number of books read was four (excluding the non-readers, the median number of books read was seven).

While I find this level clearly less than desirable, it certainly could be a lot worse. Of course, there are many reasons cited for the low levels of reading books, such as the availability of so many other forms of entertainment. Also, the rise of the Internet has made it possible for people to easily access information from home, without having to leave the house to purchase a book or borrow one from the library.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism against popular reading phenomena such as the Harry Potter series (wp) or Oprah’s Book Club (wp). Major booksellers such as Barnes & Noble (wp) and Borders (wp) are criticized as well. But I consider these to be positive influences that help stimulate and sustain interest in reading. If they bring books to the attention of the public, if they help make books more accessible, then I support them.

Book Meme #2

I am a strong advocate of reading. I think books are extremely important and I enjoy reading immensely. On this weblog I tend to focus on nonfiction, though of course nonfiction is important as well. So when I saw this post at JD2718, I thought it looked like a neat idea. I attempted to trace this back to its origin but was unsuccessful. I am also unsure as to the source of this list or what criteria were used in compiling it. Feel free to use this in your own weblog (or in a comment here, if you like).

The rules are as follows:

  • Place books you’ve read in boldface.
  • Place books you wish to read in italics.
  • Leave books you aren’t interested in normal (roman) type.
  • Movies do not count.
  1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
  2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
  4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
  5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
  6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
  7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
  8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
  9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
  10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) Continue reading “Book Meme #2”

Book Meme

Penseroso posted a neat idea for a book meme (originally from In Spring It Is the Dawn, inspired by a similar science-fiction–themed version).

Hardback or trade paperback or mass market paperback? Trade or mass market paperbacks. I need books that are small and portable so that I can take them everywhere.

Amazon or brick-and-mortar? Overall, I suppose I prefer brick-and-mortar stores. I enjoy being able to flip through a book prior to purchasing it. On the other hand, I find value in Amazon’s customer reviews and even the software’s recommendations. And you can’t beat the selection at Amazon. I end up buying books from both sources.

Barnes & Noble or Borders? I probably have a slight preference for Borders, though in my town we have just a Barnes and Noble. (Actually, we have two, and they’re both good.)

Bookmark or dogear? What book-lover would dare to dogear a book?!

Continue reading “Book Meme”