updated 8/29/2007 11:42:40 AM ET 2007-08-29T15:42:40

A rare white dolphin native to China's Yangtze river that scientists declared extinct last year has been spotted swimming in the wild, state media said Wednesday.

The baiji or white flag dolphin survived for millions of years but was declared effectively extinct in December after a fruitless six-week search of its Yangtze River habitat.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported that a man in the central province of Anhui saw and shot footage of a "big white animal" in the Yangtze river on Aug. 19. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has confirmed that the animal in the footage was a white flag dolphin, it said.

"I never saw such a big thing in the water before, so I filmed it," Zeng Yujiang, the man who spotted the dolphin, told Xinhua. "It was about 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) away and jumped out of water several times."

The report did not specify where the sighting occurred.

August Pfluger, a Swiss economist turned naturalist who helped put together the failed expedition last year to search for baiji dolphins in the Yangtze called the report "a big surprise" and "incredibly fantastic news."

The baiji dates back 20 million years. Chinese called it the "goddess of the Yangtze."

"We have to see it (the footage) and see if it's really reliable," said Pfluger. "We declared the animal extinct so if there is one left, that would be fantastic."

"Of course there is the possibility that we missed one or two animals on the last expedition," he said.

Around 400 baiji were believed to be living in the Yangtze in the early 1980s, when China was just launching the free-market reforms that have transformed its economy. The last full-fledged search, in 1997, yielded 13 confirmed sightings, and a fisherman claimed to have seen a baiji in 2004.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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