Featured Image Credit: National Geographic
The vaquita porpoise is on the verge of extinction. According to a recent acoustic survey, less than 30 of these precious cetaceans remain in the wild. This is a staggering shock. Since this time last year, their numbers have been more than cut in half. The vaquita is officially the most endangered marine mammal in the world.
The world’s smallest porpoise measures less than 5 feet and weighs close to 120 lbs, making them the perfect size for “incidental take,” or the aftermath of gill nets. One fishery in particular can be blamed for the vaquita’s endangered status: totoaba. A luxury item in Chinese markets, people pay dearly for the folkloric benefits that come from the large fish’s swim bladder. Gill nets have been widely successful when it comes to catching totoaba… but they’re also responsible for the drowning of nearly 30 vaquita every year.
In 1990, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) determined that the totoaba fishery is responsible for the vaquita’s endangered status. Totoaba fishing in the Gulf of California continued for many year with no controls, until Mexico banned the practice in 1975. The U.S. quickly followed in 1977, when they banned totoaba imports. The high demand for totoaba as a food fish keeps the illegal fishery profitable… and the vaquita in constant danger.
More recently, an international effort has been announced to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise.
VaquitaCPR (Conservation, Protection, Recovery) is an emergency plan of action developed by the Mexican government and a group of expert conservation scientists from: National Marine Mammal Foundation, The Marine Mammal Center, The Chicago Zoological Society, Dolphin Quest, SeaWorld, and The Vancouver Aquarium. Organizations like SeaWorld have been very active when it comes to vaquita conservation efforts.
In a recent press release, Dr. Sam Ridgeway, President of the National Marine Mammal Foundation commented, “Experts from around the world have come together and are working to save the vaquita in much the same way conservationists rescued the California condor from extinction in the 1980s. We recognize that the odds are stacked against us, but the conservation and scientific communities feel a duty to act and we hope our collective expertise can make a difference.”
The goal is to catch the remaining vaquita and safely place them in a sanctuary. The task is daunting because the tiny porpoise is extremely rare and avoids motorized vessels. With only 100 reported sightings, no one can predict how they will react. Lead researcher and head of CIRVA (International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita), Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, stated, “Unlike condors, we expect that most vaquitas will remain in the wild as capturing even a few will be very difficult. Having some is still better than having none. The decline is happening faster than solutions for illegal fishing, so we need to have multiple strategies.”
We are thankful for the organizations and conservationist scientists that are working hard and dedicating their lives to save the vaquita.