Saving the Vaquita

It is unknown to most individuals that there is a species of porpoise solely located in the Sea of Cortez that is fighting for its life. This cetacean, or aquatic mammal, is called the Vaquita. Its name means it is the world’s smallest porpoise, reaching lengths of only five feet. According to today’s data and sightings, there are fewer than twenty of these mammals left in their natural habitat. The Vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the world, and has been deemed critically endangered and has called for a conservation emergency.  

You are probably wondering why the species population has dropped to such low levels, and it is due to countless occurrences of entanglement. The fishing industry has a prominent footprint in California’s northern gulf, which relies on the use of gill-nets. The fisherman is seeking one specific fish, the Totoaba, which is sought after in China for its swim bladder. Though, due to the acts of overfishing, the Totoaba has also become severely endangered as a species. The Vaquita become caught in the fisherman’s net and inevitably drown, considering them by-catch or an unintended species to be affected by their fishing habits.

The Vaquita has been classified as an endangered species since 1996, however, after years of ignorance and the fishing industry, the populations have never been able to recover.  Conservation efforts have been taken, including housing two reproductive-age individuals in a sea pen, but it was unsuccessful and the mammals died. The Vaquita have specific hunting techniques and routines that do not permit them to be held captive in an area. In the wild, they typically avoid boats and display very shy behaviors. This leads to the lack of information and knowledge that has been gathered on the species. 

Another method for increasing population of the Vaquita was placing a permanent ban on gill-net fishing in the Sea of Cortez in 2016. Illegal fishing still takes place, regardless of the ban, and the population numbers have continued to drop since then. A conservation group called Sea Shepherd began Operation Milagro in an effort to save both species of the gulf from ultimately becoming extinct. They have been able to salvage copious ghost nets from the gulf to avoid an unnecessary entanglement of the marine inhabitants. 

The consequences of the Vaquita becoming extinct are unknown, hence how the environment and surrounding species will react has been not recognized. Mexico and the United States need to work together if the Vaquita population is to be saved, there is little time and much work to be done. There was an International Save the Vaquita Day that took place earlier this month to raise awareness of the species and what has to be done to save them from extinction. Everyone has to join in and come together in order to rescue the world’s smallest marine mammal from being decimated by illegal fishing. 

Kayla O’Donnell 

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