Featured Image Credit: Paula Olson, NOAA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Laura O’Brien
Vaquitas are tiny porpoises whose numbers have been decreasing rapidly in recent years. The endangered marine mammals had a population of only 600 in 1997, and last year, there were only 30 vaquitas left in existence. Vaquitas are not actually the subjects of hunting; however, they are the victims of reckless and illegal fishing practices. Gill nets capture both fish and vaquitas indiscriminately. Fishermen catch an endangered species of fish called totoaba off a portion of the coast of Mexico, where vaquitas live.
It is illegal to catch totoaba; but, the fish are sold illegally as an expensive delicacy in China, so some fishermen circumvent the law in order to catch the endangered species. The fishermen use gill nets to catch totoaba, despite the fact that gill nets are also illegal to use in the Sea of Cortez, so they often catch vaquita in the nets as well.
Vaquitas are sensitive porpoises, and stress can seriously affect their health. Conservationists captured a pair of vaquitas in hopes of breeding them in captivity to help preserve the species; however, the female reacted poorly to the trauma of being captured. A team brought the struggling creature back to the wild, but she died shortly after. With the population of vaquitas dwindling, and the absence of effective enforcement against the use of gill nets in vaquitas’ habitat, the Elephant Action League’s Andrea Crosta is concerned that they will not survive another season of totoaba fishing.
With less than 30 vaquitas in the wild, extinction seems inevitable; but, conservationists are still fighting to give vaquitas a chance at survival. The Porpoise Conservation Society’s websites states, “the window of opportunity for saving the vaquita is closing fast, but extinction is still preventable”. The website references other animals who have made unbelievable comebacks, such as grey whales, who were declared extinct before its population bounced back! Hopefully, conservationists will succeed in their efforts to protect the remaining vaquitas and help their population bounce back.