One of the world's largest fish is no more. A new study in the Science of the Total Environment has declared the Chinese paddlefish to be extinct. As National Geographic notes, the freshwater fish had been swimming in the Yangtze River for about 200 million years, but it could not survive the modern surge of China's human population. Overfishing in the 1970s took a toll, but the real damage came with the construction of the Gezhouba Dam on the Yangtze in 1981. It effectively "split the Chinese paddlefish population in two," per Live Science, making it impossible for fish downstream of the dam to return to their spawning grounds. The last sighting came in 2003, though researchers say the fish had been "functionally extinct," or unable to reproduce in meaningful numbers, a decade prior.
“It’s very sad,” fish biologist Zeb Hogan of the University of Nevada tells National Geographic. “It’s the definitive loss of a very unique and extraordinary animal, with no hope of recovery.” Hogan was not involved with the study. The fish averaged 10 feet in length, but some specimens clocked in at twice that size, notes Phys.org. The extinction means that only one paddlefish species remains in existence—the American paddlefish, which is found in the Mississippi River Basin and is considered to be vulnerable. Study leader Qiwei Wei of the Chinese Academy of Fishery Science calls the development a "reprehensible and an irreparable loss." The study, while leaving open the slim possibility that a stray fish or two exists, calculates that the extinction took place in 2010. (Read more extinction stories.)