The Race to Save the Last Vaquitas

Over the years, many animal species have gone extinct: meaning there’s not a single one alive today. Will vaquitas be next?

Vaquitas are the smallest porpoises in the world, found only in the Sea of Cortez, in the Gulf of California. They can weigh anywhere from 65 to 102 pounds and measure four to five feet long. They have stubby snouts and dark areas around their eyes and lips. Vaquitas were discovered in 1958, but they were so rarely sighted that some thought they were a myth.

Vaquitas are in trouble. It is estimated that there are only 30 left in the entire world. They are being accidentally caught in fishing nets meant for shrimp and a variety of fish, including the much sought-after Totoaba. Totoaba fishing has been especially harmful because they are similar in size to vaquitas, meaning the nets catch both. Totoaba swim bladders are considered a delicacy in Asia, so they are in high demand. This has become less of a problem now that totoaba fishing has been made illegal. Nonetheless, vaquitas are being accidentally caught, lowering their numbers.

Barbara Taylor, a marine biologist, said, “There's nothing to stop these animals from recovering if we just stop killing them.”

There is still hope for the vaquitas. In 2015, the Mexican government put a two- year ban on gillnets, a type of net that captures almost all creatures in its path, which was later made permanent. The U.S Navy also has an idea that involves echolocation and trained dolphins. The goal is for the dolphins to find the last wild vaquitas and bring them to safe breeding grounds.

Vaquitas are struggling to survive. Due to being caught in fishing nets, their numbers are dangerously low. Efforts in the United States and Mexico bring hope, but the question remains: will they survive?

[Source: National Geographic, CNN ]