Fourth Critically Endangered Vaquita Found Dead This Year Brings Species Dangerously Close To Extinction
The recent discovery of a dead endangered vaquita in the Gulf of Mexico late last month marked the fourth of the world’s smallest porpoise to be found this year.
A staggering number since scientists estimated in February that there were only 25 remaining vaquitas still in existence.
As reported by Phys.org, it is feared that these rare mammals, who live exclusively in the Gulf of Mexico, are facing extinction.
The latest deceased vaquita was found a little north of the town of San Felipe, in the state of Baja California.
At the time it was reported, experts could not determine the sex of the animal because it was in an advanced state of decomposition.
However, according to the report, the young vaquita had cuts and lacerations indicating that it had possibly been trapped in a net which may have led to its death.
According to authorities, “vaquitas have been dying for years in gillnets that are meant to illegally catch another endangered species, a large fish called the totoaba.”
The dried swim bladder of the totoaba is smuggled to China where people pay tens of thousands of dollars for its alleged “medicinal powers” so it can be eaten in soup.
The Guardian noted that many believe that “only by catching the remaining creatures and protecting them in a sanctuary can the vaquita be saved.”
An “ambitious” yet controversial emergency plan that would be carried out with the assistance of international conservation groups was subsequently introduced by the environmental ministry.
Conservationists against the multi-million dollar rescue plan argued that “the vaquita is not an animal that can thrive in captivity.”
“Some porpoises, like the harbour porpoise, don’t seem to mind too much when captured, but others, such as the Dall’s porpoise, go into shock,” Barbara Taylor, of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in the article. “We don’t know which it is going to be. It is a nerve-racking prospect.”
According to scientists they are left with no choice.
“Vaquita numbers are so low it is clear that if we do nothing, it will go extinct very soon,” claimed Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, of Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change. “However, if we capture the last few and try to protect them we have a chance to save the species.”
The at risk mammal with distinctive features is described as having “a large dark ring around its eyes and dark patches on its lips that form a thin line from the mouth to the pectoral fins.” The vaquita’s dorsal surface is dark gray; its sides pale gray and its ventral surface white with long, light gray markings according to World Wildlife Fund.
Sea Shepherd’s campaign in defense of the highly endangered vaquita porpoise called Operation Milagro III (Operation Miracle) continues our conservation efforts for the endangered vaquita porpoise, who doesn’t have much time left.
The crews of Sea Shepherd’s vessels M/V Sam Simon and M/V Farley Mowat are patrolling in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, the only waters on Earth called home by the world’s smallest and rarest cetacean. With a population that has dwindled to an estimated less than 60 individuals, only 25 of whom are believed to be reproductive females, Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro III addresses the urgent need to conserve this imperiled species.
This year, the M/V Sam Simon, is joining the M/V Farley Mowat for the first time on a Milagro campaign.
Sea Shepherd is determined to help this shy and elusive porpoise beat the odds, bringing about a miracle to restore the vaquita population from the brink of extinction.
The organization is partnering with the government of Mexico to protect the waters of the vaquita refuge, patrol for poachers, document issues facing the endangered cetacean, and to collect vital data to share with the scientific community. It will also conduct outreach in the region, meeting with marine biologists, researchers and other NGOs working locally to save the vaquita.