The Critically Endangered Vaquita Porpoise
The Vaquita (Phocoean sinus), also known as the desert porpoise, is the world’s smallest and rarest cetacean. Cetaceans are a group of marine mammals which include whales, dolphins and porpoises. This tiny porpoise was not known until 1958, but slightly over half a century later, it is on the edge of extinction. With about 97 adult individuals remaining in the world today, the vaquita is rightly listed as critically endangered. It is approximated that 70 to 80 percent of them were lost in the last 5 years, a very grim statistic.
Source :Chris Johnson
What Does the Vaquita Porpoise Look Like
Vaquitas are small and stocky, and they have the classic porpoise shape. They can easily be distinguished from other porpoises due to the dark ring around their eyes and dark patches on their lips which go on to form a thin line running from the mouth to the pectoral fins.
Their backs have a dark grey color which fades to white on the undersides. A newborn vaquita has a darker coloration, especially around the head and the areas behind the eyes. The females are generally larger than males, usually ending up at a length of about 140 cm compared to 135 cm in males.
Where to See the Vaquita Porpoise
The vaquita porpoise is only found in the northern part of the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez. They prefer living in shallow lagoons along the shorelines. They can survive in lagoons which are so shallow that their backs show above the surface. This is perhaps because they seldom swim deeper than 100 feet. The murky waters they live in attract many small fish, squid and other crustaceans on which they feed.
Why is the Vaquita Endangered
These adorably pretty porpoises (they appear as if they have lipstick and mascara on) with sleek bodies are very shy, hence they are rarely seen, except when they turn up dead in illegal gillnets used for hunting the totoaba, a critically endangered fish. The totoaba’s swim bladder is highly treasured in China where it is regarded as a traditional health food and medicine. One bladder can go for thousands of dollars, and few fishers can resist the temptation. This is greatly exacerbating the problem. It is now being reported that totoaba are now being used as investments, in speculation that prices will rise even higher as the species becomes rarer.
Vaquita Porpoise Conservation Efforts
There is hope, however. The Mexican government is planning on enacting new legislation which will make totoaba fishing equivalent to cocaine smuggling in terms of the punishments involved. The current penalty of a $500 fine with no jail time is not a sufficient disincentive when fish bladders are fetching almost $4,000 a pound.
While there is a temporary gillnet ban that expires in 12 months, experts say that this is not enough to save the vaquita porpoise. A permanent ban should be introduced and alternative fishing practices should be encouraged. Since the animals are less than 100 remaining, this could be the only solution. The vaquita porpoise takes 6 years to reach reproductive age, and they only give birth once in every two years. This means it will take almost 40 years to bring back the population to what it was five years ago. If nothing is done, the vaquitas will soon be gone.