Extinction of vaquita

April 10, 2023, 9:11 a.m.

The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is the smallest porpoise, and the smallest cetacean. It lives only in the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), where fewer than 20 individuals remain. In recent years, the population has declined at a dramatic rate. From 2011, the population has declined by 96%.

The single most serious threat to the vaquita, and the cause for its rapid decline, is the use of gillnets in the vaquita habitat.

A gillnet is a wall of netting that hangs in the water column. The mesh is designed so that fish can get their heads through, but not the rest of their bodies. As they struggle to free themselves, they get entangled with their gills. Gillnets are very effective and used around the world, but often lead to large amounts of by-catch and pose a threat to other marine animals, such as sea turtles, seals and sea lions and cetaceans like the vaquita. If a vaquita gets entangled, it only has minutes to free itself. Most animals drown, and those that escape often do so with severe injuries.

Illegal fishing activity is quickly driving this species to extinction.

Why is it so important that we fight to save the Vaquita? The vaquita is not the only marine mammal in trouble, nor would it be the first of the whale and dolphin family to go extinct in recent years. The Baiji, or Yangtze River dolphin, was declared functionally extinct in 2006 when a survey mission failed to find a single individual in the Chinese waters it called home. Conservation efforts for this species that began in the 1970s had failed.

The vaquita is a unique animal, and an important predator. We must not allow for a second species of cetacean to become extinct in our lifetime. Otherwise, it's disappearance will have devastating consequences for the entire ecosystem. Its decline is man-made and its extinction entirely preventable.

What actions do you think should be taken today to preserve this species?

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