With Just 30 Individuals Left, Time is Running Out for the Vaquita

Conservationists have been warning that the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise may go extinct if we don’t act to save them, and now a new report paints a shockingly dire picture of their chances of surviving.

The vaquita only exists in a small area in the Gulf of California, off the coast of Mexico. Despite past efforts to protect them, including the creation of a refuge in 2005, their numbers have continued to decline at an alarming rate.

They lost nearly half of their entire population from 2015 to 2016. Over the past five years, their numbers have dropped by 90 percent over just the past five years.

Now, according to a new report released by the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), there are now just 30 individuals left in existence.

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.

The scientific consensus is that if there’s any hope of saving the vaquita, gillnets have to go. In 2015, the Mexican government 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.

The Mexican Navy and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are working to protect the vaquita as part of Operation Milagro III by policing the area and removing what they can, but the nets are still a major problem and the ban is about to expire in April.

“Several international entities, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the International Whaling Commission, have all called on Mexico to make the gillnet ban permanent,” said Kate O’Connell, marine wildlife consultant with the Animal Welfare Institute. “If the government of Mexico does not immediately enact and enforce a permanent gillnet ban, the vaquita will perish, as will Mexico’s hope of being recognized as a responsible fishing nation.”

For its part, CIRVA again supported a total ban on gillnet fishing, in addition to other measures including increased support of gillnet removal efforts, continuing the acoustic monitoring program, strengthening anti-poaching efforts and speeding up the development of alternative fishing gear.

It also expressed support for a plan announced in December that will involve capturing vaquitas and protecting them in a sanctuary, but that proposal has stirred controversy and comes with serious risks. Many have also raised concerns that it will draw needed attention and resources away from actions that we know will give the vaquita a chance to survive.

“There’s no time left for half-hearted efforts to save the vaquita,” said Zak Smith, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “Mexico has a choice to make: Put in an all-out effort to permanently ban and remove all gillnets from vaquita habitat in the Gulf of California or be responsible for the extinction of this beautiful, unique porpoise. If they don’t take real action, the disappearance of vaquitas is on them.”

For more on how to support gillnet removal efforts, check out Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro III.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

207 comments

Siyus C
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Marie W
Marie W2 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W2 years ago

Signed.

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Melania P
Melania P2 years ago

I don't think there is hope for this species, as well as for others; it is too late :(
The damage is done, shame on us! Some billion humans need to die forever too

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Angela K
Angela K2 years ago

petition signed & shared

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Leong S
Leong S2 years ago

ty

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Patricia Harris
Patricia Harris2 years ago

We have got to stop abiding by such stupid laws, and just jump right into action! Our justice system is corrupted, our government is corrupted, and our damn president is corrupted, so it looks like you'll have no other choice but to listen to me as the situation continues to worsen! I was told that it was always better to be safe than sorry, so I really don't want to take any kind of failure too lightly. Even if we lose these wonderful creatures, we still have plenty of others that's worth fighting for.

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Philippa P
Philippa Powers2 years ago

Thanks.

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Janne O
Janne O2 years ago

30 left....

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Telica R
Telica R2 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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