In modern times humans have eradicated four types of marine mammal, most recently the Chinese River Dolphin in 2006. Of all of the creatures in our seas and oceans currently under threat of extinction there are few more endangered, or more adorable, than the Vaquita, a tiny porpoise that lives off the coast of Mexico.
Their name means “little cow”. They are a very small porpoise and, aside from their relatively tiny stature, they are known for the unmistakeable dark rings around their eyes and dark grey mouths.
How Many Are There?
Their numbers have literally halved over three years and there are currently fewer than 100 of these marine mammals left. Drastic measures are required to make sure they don’t disappear from the Gulf of Mexico forever.
Why Are They Endangered?
20% of Vaquitas die as a result of by-fishing. This means they are accidentally caught by fishermen who are attempting to catch something else. More often than not, in this instance, the fishermen are trying to catch a fish called a Totoaba, another species which is critically endangered. The Totoaba is fished for its swim bladder, an internal organ that fish fill up with air to make themselves float at different levels in the water. It is commonly dried and traded for use in traditional medicines. The WWF are working to crack down on this illegal trade in the hope that, by making it harder for fishermen to sell their catches, it will dissuade them and, by extension, reduce Vaquita fatalities too.
There are also efforts to ban gillnetting. This is a type of net fishing where a wall of net is placed in the water which the fish swim into and are subsequently tangled in, either by their gills or their teeth and fins. It is already banned or restricted in a number of territories due to the indiscriminate nature of the catches it facilitates. The WWF are working with the Mexican government to ban gillnets, at least in the areas that the Vaquita is known to inhabit.
What Is Being Done?
CNN Mexico has written an open letter asking the Mexican government to ban gillnet fishing and regulate the illegal trade of Totoaba more closely, while praising their installation of a Vaquita shelter and channelling $30 million into conservation charities, including compensating fishing communities to commit to more sustainable fishing methods. They also ask the Chinese government to combat domestic trade of Totoaba parts, hoping that this will have a ripple effect on the demand for them.