The World’s Smallest and Rarest Porpoise Could Disappear in a Few Years

Conservationists have been concerned with the future of the the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise for decades, but an alarming new report has raised concerns that they’re doing even worse than we thought.

The tiny porpoise at the center of concern is known as the vaquita, who can be found only in a small area of the Gulf of California, off the coast of Mexico.

Despite past efforts to protect them, including the creation of a refuge in 2005, their population was recently believed to have dwindled to fewer than 100 individuals just a year ago.

Unfortunately, according to a recent report released by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), that brought to light new information from the Mexico-based International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) that was collected through its acoustic monitoring program, which records the number of vocalizations heard in the Gulf.

Between 2011 and 2013 scientists believed their numbers were dropping at an average rate of 18.5 percent each year, but now it’s up to 30 percent. Between 2013 and 2014 alone they declined by a staggering 42 percent.

Now scientists believe there are only 50 or fewer individuals left in existence, and at the rate they’re declining, they’ll be gone forever in as little as three years.

“It’s horrifying to witness, in real time, the extinction of an animal right in front of our eyes,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without drastic help, vaquitas could vanish completely in just a few years. We need the world to wake up and help save these incredible porpoises.”

One of their main threats is being killed as bycatch after getting entangled in gillnets used to catch shrimp and other fish, but 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.

A recent undercover investigation conducted by Greenpeace found the black market that brings dried bladders from Mexico, through the U.S. to China is alive and well, bringing in prices as high as $645,000.

In response to pressure to act, Mexico announced a two-year ban on gillnet fishing in the northern Gulf in April, in addition to increasing monitoring and enforcement of the ban in the area and compensating fishermen for their lost catches.

While the effort was applauded as a step in the right direction, CIRVA and conservation organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Center for Biological Diversity believe the only thing that will save the vaquita from extinction now is to make the temporary ban on gillnets permanent throughout the vaquita’s entire range.

Now, in addition to calling for a permanent ban, conservation organizations are encouraging a number of actions that could potentially help them recover from asking the Obama administration to impose trade sanctions on Mexico in an effort to stop illegal fishing and urging authorities to increase customs enforcement to stop the trade in totoaba.

They’re also petitioning the World Heritage Committee to designate more than 6,900 square miles of ocean and islands in northern Mexico as “in danger,” which they hope will raise both awareness about the plights of the vaquita and the totoaba, in addition to raising funds for conservation efforts.

Photo credit: Thomas A. Jefferso/Marine Mammal Commission

96 comments

Neville B.
Neville B3 years ago

Actually it's not accepting the signing, it's just 'processing' it : (

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Neville B.
Neville B3 years ago

Signed, plus links.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Already signed.Thank you

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Valentina R.
Valentina R3 years ago

Petition signed. The only species that should go extinct is the human one.

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Sen Senz
Sayenne H3 years ago

Sad :(

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Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago

Noted

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Angela K.
Angela K3 years ago

Petition signed

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Angela K.
Angela K3 years ago

Petition signed

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Pamela A.
Pamela A3 years ago

Stop gill netting!

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