Sighting of Critically Endangered Vaquita Calf Brings Hope

While things have been looking extremely bleak for the future survival of the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise, recent sightings have offered hope they may yet survive.

The porpoise in question is otherwise known as the vaquita, or “panda of the sea,” who only exist in a small area in the Gulf of California, off the coast of Mexico. Despite past efforts to protect them, their numbers have continued to decline at an alarming rate and until now there were believed to be fewer than 30 individuals left in existence.

The biggest problem they now face is being killed as bycatch when they get entangled in gillnets that are used to catch shrimp and other fish, and 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.

Their small population in the face of these ongoing threats has had scientists warning that they will go extinct in the very near future without serious action to save them on our part.

But now there’s a glimmer of hope for them. At the end of September, scientists conducting a survey spotted a mother and calf, and later spotted six more adults, including what may have been a second calf.

Posted by Museo de la Ballena on Wednesday, October 17, 2018

As the New York Times notes, the calf sightings were a particularly big deal, not just because it means vaquitas are still reproducing, but because it’s the first evidence that they can produce a calf every year, as opposed to every two years as scientists had previously believed.

A full population estimate isn’t expected to be finished until January, and it could still show a decline, but now there’s more optimism that if we act now we may be able to help them survive. With acoustic monitoring, scientists have found that the vaquita has already disappeared from 86 percent of its historic range in the Gulf of Mexico.

Still, since they’ve been reduced to such a small area, their advocates see it as an opportunity. According to the Associated Press, there’s now at least one proposal to erect a barrier that wouldn’t hinder their movements, but would keep fishing boats away from them, and another to keep a Navy ship in the middle of their range to stop illegal fishing.

Following a lawsuit, the U.S. Court of International Trade recently ordered the Trump administration to ban seafood imports from Mexico that are caught using gillnets in the Upper Gulf of California because it was violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) at a rate above U.S. standards, while Sea Shepherd launched its campaign to protect them early this year.

Hopefully the sightings will help reignite pressure to continue international conservation efforts to help ensure the vaquita survives.

For more on how to help, check out organizations working to save the vaquita, including the World Wildlife FundAnimal Welfare InstituteCenter for Biological DiversityNatural Resources Defense Council, Viva Vaquita and Sea Shepherd.

Photo credit: Todd Pusser/MMC

70 comments

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Jack Y3 months ago

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Jack Y3 months ago

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John J
John J3 months ago

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John J
John J3 months ago

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Jack Y
Jack Y3 months ago

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Jack Y3 months ago

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Janet B
Janet B6 months ago

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Brandy S6 months ago

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June M
June M6 months ago

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Callie R6 months ago

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