The world’s smallest porpoise is in real trouble. According to scientists, there could be as few as 30 vaquitas remaining on the planet. We highlighted the plight facing this species in detail last month.
According to the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (or CIRVA), the vaquita population has plummeted 90% since 2011, despite international conservation efforts. The vaquita, which is found only in Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California, is the most endangered marine mammal on Earth.
According to CIRVA, the number one threat facing vaquitas is gill nets. The porpoises get trapped in these nets and drown. Gill nets are often used illegally in the region to catch shrimp and fish, including the critically endangered totoaba. The totoaba’s swim bladder, also known as maw, is considered a delicacy in Asia and can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market.
While a series of conservation efforts have been rolled out, including banning gill net fishing across the vaquitas’ range, removing old fishing nets from the ocean, and using drones to detect illegal fishing in the Gulf, the vaquitas’ population is not showing improvements.
To that end, CIRVA has announced that it will begin a controversial rescue program this spring. Scientists plan to capture as many of them as possible and transport them to a protective area in a last-ditch effort to save the species from extinction. The plan is controversial because vaquitas have never been captured before, and some scientists are concerned this plan could do more harm than good.
But without prompt and concerted efforts to protect the species, CIRVA says that vaquitas will be extinct by 2022.
Photo, posted April 15, 2015, courtesy of Semarnat via Flickr.