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Hanbao, a 28-month-old finless porpoise was named by Chinese netizens this week. Photo: SCMP composite

‘Little baby’: Chinese social media names artificially-bred Yangtze finless porpoise to draw attention to critically endangered species

  • The Yangtze finless porpoise has seen a steep population decline in the past 30 years and is considered critically endangered
  • Three mainland Chinese organisations held a naming competition to bring public attention to the plight of the species

Facing a declining population, attempts to save the Yangtze finless porpoise range from fishing bans to raising public awareness and even using artificial breeding to learn how to protect the animals.

One porpoise, born in 2020 in captivity, offers a ray of hope because it is the first second-generation Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis) that was born through an artificial breeding programme in Wuhan, Hubei province in central China.

As part of International Freshwater Dolphin Day on October 24, a trio of mainland Chinese organisations arranged an online competition to name the porpoise, according to China Daily.

A 28-month-old finless porpoise was named Hanbao on Monday by an online competition. Photo: China Daily

The winning name was Hanbao, a mash-up of words that could mean “little baby” or “treasure” while also winking at the porpoise’s birthplace of Wuhan.

The competition received 1,211 name suggestions, which then went to a public poll, with Hanbao winning 42 per cent of the votes. The competition was an attempt to raise public awareness about protecting the freshwater finless porpoise population.

Hanbao is the son of a female porpoise named Tao Tao, who was the world’s first finless porpoise born through artificial breeding.


The breeding programmes are important because the Yangtze finless porpoises have experienced a steep population decline in the past 30 years, mostly attributed to human activity.

According to a CGTN news article from October, the population fell from an estimated 2,500 in 1991 to 1,012 in 2017.

Artificial breeding programmes are helpful for scientists to learn about the behaviour of the species. Photo: CGTN

It is unclear if Tao Tao or Hanbao will ever live in the wild, as animals born in captivity often struggle to adapt to life in the wild and often die.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing said breeding the porpoises in captivity is valuable because it “enhances people’s understanding of the biological characteristics and life habits of the porpoises and provides technical support for their natural conservation”.

In September 2021, after Hanbao was born, Hao Yujiang, an associate researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, said in a press release that the porpoise’s birth marked a “breakthrough” in the artificial breeding programme.


Yangtze finless porpoises, one of the few remaining freshwater cetaceans (which also include dolphins and whales) are now categorised as “critically endangered”, according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Furthermore, about half of the population lives in Poyang Lake in Jiangxi province in southeastern China.

Two wild Yangtze finless porpoises swim in the river near Nanjing in eastern China. Photo: Getty Images
In an attempt to revitalise the Yangtze River ecosystem, which has been struggling mightily, the Chinese government banned commercial fishing on large parts of the river starting on January 1, 2021. The following year, the ban was extended to cover the entire river and key tributaries.

The hope is that the finless porpoises do not follow the fate of the baiji, the Chinese river dolphin, which has not been spotted in the wild for 20 years and was declared extinct in 2006.

The dolphin’s extinction is a sombre story because an estimated 6,000 dolphins were living in the river during the 1950s, which was considered a healthy population.