Vaquitas are little porpoises that live in the northern area of the Gulf of California. Due to overfishing, they are almost extinct.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 25, 2022. It has since been updated.
The vaquita, also known as the Phocoena sinus, is a small porpoise that is native to the northern area of the Gulf of California. This divine sea creature can grow to be approximately five feet long and, when fully grown, weighs around 120 pounds. The animal has been on the endangered list for several years now, but concerns about its survival are growing. There were 600 vaquitas in 1997. The population dwindled to 30 in 2017, and today, there are thought to be only about 10 left. Environmentalists believe fishermen’s use of gill nets is the reason behind the vaquita's increasing endangerment, Kingdoms TV reports.
#ICYMI: New research shows there may be hope for the endangered vaquita porpoise. Their small population of 10 still has enough genetic diversity to recover — if we act now to protect them from gillnets. https://t.co/OL3iatb63w— Center for Biological Diversity (@CenterForBioDiv) May 16, 2022
Affectionately referred to as sea pandas owing to the black rings around their eyes, vaquitas are especially unique. They are the only porpoise species that can survive in warm water. While all other species of porpoise require water that is colder than 68 degrees Fahrenheit, vaquitas reside in shallow, warm water. They are also considered to be uniquely solitary in their behavior. According to environmental experts, traditional fishing practices in Mexico have led to the near-extinction of this marine species, even though they have not been aggressively pursued by fishermen (unlike the white rhino, which was nearly pushed to extinction due to poaching).
It's #EndangeredSpeciesDay : a reminder that there are too many species that fit the definition of 'endangered'. The vaquita is the smallest and most endangered cetacean with as few as 10 individuals left. We work to help species like the vaquita; they give us porpoise. pic.twitter.com/4wuiWIb8WB— The Carmichael Lab - Dauphin Island Sea Lab (@CarmichaelLab) May 21, 2022
In Mexico, fishermen use gill nets to collect an endangered fish species called totoaba. On the black market, totoaba can fetch up to $50,000. Totoaba is a delicacy in China. Although both totoaba fishing and gill nets are illegal in Mexico, the large payoff attracts local fishermen. This affects vaquitas as gill nets also trap the little porpoises. Andrea Crosta of Earth League International, a wildlife trafficking watchdog group, is extremely concerned for the surviving vaquitas. He believes they may perish during the unlawful fishing season. Crosta recently visited Mexico, where various sources confirmed that the number of live vaquitas is critically low.
For this reason, some environmentalists hope that a few vaquitas may be rescued and reared in captivity. The conservation organization Vaquita CPR undertook a rescue effort in 2017 but was not successful in its endeavor. At the time, the female porpoise that the crew managed to rescue was unable to cope as a result of stress during her relocation to captivity and she perished shortly after being returned to the water. Nevertheless, Crosta believes it is important to keep fighting to save the vaquitas. Organizations such as Elephant Action League and Sea Shepherd continue to monitor the Gulf of California and decipher the trafficking routes in China. "Even if they kill all the vaquitas, we owe it to them to reveal the whole story, the truth, and we want to bring those guilty to justice, who, by the way, are not the fishermen," said Crosta.
Friday is National Endangered Species Day and we are proud to say Island Lake 1st Graders raised $65.59 to make a virtual adoption of the critically endangered marine mammal, the vaquita. Way to go 1st Graders! YOU are making a difference! pic.twitter.com/vmVhRZv6zQ— Island Lake (@ILElementary) May 18, 2022