Culture Lecture on Poems on Yangtze Finless Porpoise

The culture lecture of the Institute of Hydrobiology (IHB) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences welcomed its third speaker of the year, ZHANG Xiaoliang, who is the secretary of the secretariat of Wuhan Baiji Conservation Foundation (WBCF) and retired staff of IHB.    

Zhang gave a lecture with the title of “Yangtze Finless Porpoise in Ancient and Modern Chinese Poems”, on December 29, for IHB faculty and students.    

The Yangtze finless porpoises are the national second level protected species (to be upgraded to the first level). There are only 1,012 porpoises living in the wild, mainly distributed in the mainstream of the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River and two large connecting lakes – Poyang Lake and Dongting Lake.    

Zhang’s lecture started with a poem written by Tao Zhu of the Qing dynasty. The location was Yichang, at the junction of the middle and upper reaches of Yangtze River, where the poet saw the porpoises swim in the river as if they were welcoming him. This poem is, according to Zhang, the first poem that recorded the exact date (Oct. 17, 1810) and place (Nanjinguan) of the Yangtze finless porpoises showing up.   

The scene moved from Yichang all the way down to Shishou where the first nature reserve for the Yangtze finless porpoises was established in 1992. Up to now, there are 80 porpoises living here. Poems written in Song dynasty, Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty not only mention the porpoises of this region, but depict their behavior vividly as well.    

In one of the poems, it says that the porpoise “worship the wind”, depicting a scene when there is an approaching storm, the porpoise would jump out of the water. The fishermen, by seeing this, could survive a devastating storm.    

Passing Shishou, it is the Dongting lake of Hunan Province and Wuhan city of Hubei Province. The showing up of the porpoises in the Dongting Lake were mentioned in the poems back in the Tang and Song dynasty by HAN Yu, one of the eight great prose masters of that time. Now, there are 110 porpoises living in the lake.  

There are even more poems about the finless porpoise appearing in the scenic spots of Wuhan during the Ming and Qing dynasty. Since August 2020, the porpoises have reappeared in the Wuhan section of the Yangtze River. The local government is now joining hands with IHB to make the city a suitable habitat for the endangered species. Hopefully, the scene in the ancient poems will be a new normal for the residents of Wuhan.