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The Vaquita

Vaquita, the world's most rare marine mammal, is on the edge of extinction. This little porpoise wasn't discovered until 1958 and a little over half a century later, we are on the brink of losing them forever. Vaquita are often caught and drowned in gillnets used by illegal fishing operations in marine protected areas within Mexico's Gulf of California. The population has dropped drastically in the last few years.

The vaquita has a large dark ring around its eyes and dark patches on its lips that form a thin line from the mouth to the pectoral fins. Its dorsal surface is dark gray, sides pale gray and ventral surface white with long, light gray markings. Newborn vaquita have darker coloration and a wide gray fringe of color that runs from the head to the dorsal flukes, passing through the dorsal and pectoral fins. They are most often found close to shore in the Gulf's shallow waters, although they quickly swim away if a boat approaches.

Mexico's only endemic marine mammal, the vaquita is a slender porpoise with distinctive dark rings around the eyes and mouth. It is the world's smallest and most endangered cetacean, and lives in the warm shallow coastal waters in the northern end of the Gulf of California. The vaquita is the only species of porpoise to live in such warm waters, and can uniquely tolerate large fluctuations in temperature. Although vaquita have never been hunted directly, populations are declining as a result of incidental mortality in fishing gear.A recent alarming study has shown that a mere 150 individuals remain. With current annual mortalities estimated at around 40 vaquitas per year, immediate action is required in order to save this species from extinction.

 

Vaquita's Habitat

Lives in shallow, murky lagoons along the shoreline where there is strong tidal mixing, convection processes and high food availability. The species is rarely seen in waters deeper than 30 m. The water temperatures here fluctuate annually, ranging from 14°C in January to as high as 30°C in August. The vaquita is the only species of porpoise to live in such warm waters, and is unique in its ability to tolerate these large

 

Threats

Vaquita are vulnerable because they are rare and have such a limited distribution. Although they have never been hunted directly, the population continues to decline, primarily as a result of incidental mortality in fishing gear. Vaquita frequently die in illegal gillnets set for the endangered totoaba fish (Totoaba macdonaldi), as well as in gillnets set for sharks, rays, mackerels, chano and shrimp, and occasionally in commercial shrimp trawls. When the animals become entangled in fishing nets they cannot surface to breathe, and therefore drown. It is estimated that between 39 and 84 individuals die in this way each year. Juveniles are particularly susceptible to entanglement in nets, and researchers are concerned that this will lead to a decrease in the number of reproductive adults in the population, leading to further and more rapid declines. The damming of the Colorado River in the United States has led to a decrease in freshwater input into the upper Gulf of California. The long-term consequences of this drastic habitat alternation on the vaquita are also matters of concern.

 

Save the Vaquitas!

There are some very simple things you can do to support the vaquita conservation effort, ranging from just spreading the word to using your buying power when shopping for seafood.

  • Tell all your friends!
    It is very important that everybody knows about the vaquita and what is happening in Mexico. Not only does that put pressure on the Mexican government to act, but it also raises awareness for some of the issues that not only affect vaquita, but porpoises in general and countless other species as well. Tell everyone who will listen about the vaquita's plight and don't stop until the vaquita is safe!
  • Shop for sustainable seafood!
    Entanglement in fishing nets is what is driving this species to extinction, and it is also the most dangerous threat for all 6 of the other species. You can help by making sustainable choices when buying seafood. There are programs to help you make that choice, such as Seafood Watch in the United States or SeaChoice or Ocean Wise in Canada.
  • Avoid Mexican shrimp!
    Conservation organizations from around the world have issued a call to boycott shrimp caught in Mexico. The goal of that campaign is to put immense pressure on Mexico to encourage the government to step up its enforcement efforts in the Sea of Cortez.
  • Support the Gulf of California!
    You can help establish tourism around the Sea of Cortez as an alternative to fishing by choosing the area as your holiday destination! There are lots of socioeconomic problems in Mexico, so your tourism dollars can do some good and help transform the region.
  • Donate to conservation efforts!
    Help us and the many other organizations raising awareness and contributing to research and conservation efforts for the vaquita by making a donation. If you would like to support our campaign, please consider adopting a vaquita (or one of the other 6 species) - that also makes a great gift (and in the process you get to spread the word!).
  • Copyright© 2017 by Amanda Kitto. All rights reserved