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The vaquita porpoise is now right on the edge of extinction, with perhaps even as few as a dozen or less now alive. This is a tragedy happening right before our eyes; can anything be done?
The vaquita has been listed as critically endangered since 1996; however numbers have plummeted in recent times. The population of the animals is measured using acoustic surveys, which are able to locate the porpoises, which appear to live within the northern area of the Gulf of California.
The number of vaquitas was estimated at 600 in 1997, below 100 in 2014, approximately 60 in 2015, around 30 in November 2016, with numbers continuing to decline; possibly even as low as 12-15 in late 2018.
Why Is The Vaquita Going Extinct?
The continuing decrease in the population is attributed to “bycatch” (a term that means the creatures are not the intended target) of the illegal gill net fishing of the totoaba. Gillnets are a very effective type of net that is notorious for incidental captures of whales and dolphins, which swim into the nets, become entangled and drown.
The totoaba, the intended target of the gillnets, has itself become rare and the tragic irony of what is happening is exacerbated by the fact that the totoaba is being fished due to a fashion for its use in China, where its swim bladder is consumed as a delicacy and thought to have medicinal value – a notion that is regarded as superstition in the West.
So just to get this straight; the Vaquita is being accidentally caught in illegal nets used to harvest another fish whose organs are believed, perhaps superstitiously, to have medicinal value.
What a tragic and utterly pointless loss of a beautiful creature. When they are gone, they are gone and will never be seen again… ever. When will the insanity stop?
Some good people are making real efforts to help. Tens of millions of dollars has been reported to have been spent by the Mexican government and environmental organizations in an attempt to prevent the bycatch; banning the use of gillnets. However illegal fishing is taking place due to the demand for the totoaba.
Attempts have been made also to breed the vaquita in captivity (sea pens) however it is not known if they can survive captivity, with one captured animal dying within hours of being taken, leading to the halting go the program.
Experts have stated that the ban on gillnets will need to be extended indefinitely and patrolled fiercely if the vaquita is to have any chance at long term survival; and this lovely creature will be extinct within 5 years or less unless drastic steps are taken immediately. The fate of the vaquita is in our hands.
The trade in totoaba swim bladders needs to be halted and measures increased to stop the illegal fishing activities, which are reported to be ongoing.
The vaquita’s average lifespan is considered to be 20 years in ideal conditions.
The last cetacean to be made extinct by human activity was the Baiji Dolphin, which was recorded as extinct in 2006, after a 20-million year history.
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