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Mexico's Vaquita Porpoise Faces Imminent Extinction - Can It Be Saved?

Virginia Morell - National Geographic
go to original
August 15, 2014



Vaquita - Saving the Desert Porpoise: Vaquita porpoise in Mexico is a marine mammal on the brink of extinction. (Chris Johnson)

The vaquita, a small porpoise found only in the Gulf of California, is rapidly going extinct, an international team of scientists reported earlier this month.

The researchers say that the marine mammals - whose name means "little cow" in Spanish - are accidentally drowning in the gill nets local fishers deploy for fish and shrimp. A mere 97 vaquitas remain.

Vaquitas are shy creatures, and rarely seen, except when they're pulled to the surface - dead - in nets. They've been known to science only since 1958, when three skulls were found on a beach. At the time, it was thought that they numbered in the low thousands. Scientists and fishers alike say the animals, with their pretty facial markings ("they look like they're wearing lipstick and mascara," one scientist said) and sleek bodies, are endearing.

There's danger now that the porpoises will become the second cetacean (the first was the baiji, or Chinese river dolphin) to succumb to human pressures, most likely disappearing forever by 2018.

"It's a complete disappointment for everybody, because we've all been working hard to turn this around, and the [Mexican] government has addressed this from the highest level possible," said Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, a cetacean conservation specialist at Mexico's Commission of Natural Protected Areas and a member of the team.



GRAPHIC: Maggie Smith, NG Staff. SOURCES: International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita; IUCN; UNEP-WCMC

Read the rest at National Geographic

Photo:  Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures/Corbis

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