Mexico Takes a Big Step to Save the World’s Smallest and Rarest Porpoise

Conservationists are applauding Mexico for taking a major step that could help the vaquita, the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise, from going extinct.

The vaquita only exists in a small area in the Gulf of California, off the coast of Mexico, and even though they were only discovered in the late 1950s, they’re already on the verge of disappearing forever.

Despite past efforts to protect them, including the creation of a refuge in 2005, they have continued to decline at an alarming rate.

Over the past five years, their numbers have dropped by 90 percent, and they lost nearly half of their entire population between just 2015 and 2016. Today, there are believed to be 30 or fewer individuals left in existence, who are quickly approaching the brink of extinction.

One of their main threats is being killed as bycatch after getting entangled in gillnets used to catch shrimp and other fish. They’re also suffering as a result of illegal fishing targeting endangered totoaba for its swim bladder, which is used in Chinese medicine and is also considered a delicacy.

Conservationists have continued to argue that if there’s any hope of saving the vaquita, gillnets have got to go. In 2015, the Mexican government finally announced a two-year ban on gillnet fishing in the vaquita’s range, in addition to increasing monitoring and enforcement of the ban, and compensating fishermen for their lost catches, but it hasn’t been effective enough to stop heartbreaking losses.

The vaquita’s plight has raised calls for a boycott of Mexican shrimp. The National Marine Fisheries Service was petitioned to enact a rule early that would ban imports of Mexican seafood caught using gillnets. Leonardo DiCaprio also called on Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto to act to save the vaquita.

Now, conservationists and advocates are celebrating an announcement that the ban on gillnets in the vaquita’s range has officially been made permanent.

Viva Vaquita applauded the announcement, but added a note of caution, saying in a statement, “As always, much depends on how the new rules are implemented, and how effective enforcement will be, but this is a critical step needed for the long-term conservation of the vaquita (and many other species) in the northern Gulf.  Importantly, it includes bans on night fishing and on transporting or possessing gillnets in the area, though it does exclude the active use of gillnets in the corvina (curvina) and sierra fisheries.”

While the battle to save them isn’t over, it’s a positive sign that serious action is going to be taken. Hopefully it will be followed by more to stop illegal fishing and support local communities.

In an effort to raise more awareness about the vaquita, and the increasing risk of extinction they face, their advocates will be rallying at the Mexican Embassy in Washington D.C., along with other locations around the U.S., and world, for International Save the Vaquita Day on July 8.

For more on how to help, check out organizations working to save the vaquita, including the World Wildlife Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Viva Vaquita and Sea Shepherd.

Photo credit: Todd Pusser/Marine Mammal Commission

155 comments

Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

thank you for sharing

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Melania P
Melania P1 years ago

With only 30 something individuals I don't think the vaquitas can be saved :-(

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joan silaco
joan silaco1 years ago

at least they're trying!

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Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe1 years ago

Good news!! I just hope it isn't already too late!!

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Toni W
Toni W1 years ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W1 years ago

TYFS

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Norman P
Norman P1 years ago

Wow, maybe they can get Trump to pay for it!

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Michele B
Michele B1 years ago

long time coming

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David Anderson
David Anderson1 years ago

I am pleasantly surprised. A broken clock is right twice a day, and the Mexican government rarely meets that standard. At least it worked out this time!

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Maria Papastamatiou

Great news. Too bad that man takes measures in favour of another creature only when they reach the point of extinction.

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