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Mexico's Vaquita Porpoise Could Go Extinct in 2 Years

John R. Platt - TakePart
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January 2, 2016

Despite a ban that started in April, some Mexican fishermen are still using gillnets in the northern Gulf of California to the detriment of critically endangered endemic porpoises. (Greenpeace)

Will the world’s smallest and rarest porpoise still swim the waters of the Gulf of California two years from now?

That’s the question for the vaquita, arguably the world’s most endangered marine mammal, which experts say has an extremely narrow window in which to avoid extinction.


Listen: The world’s most endangered marine mammal is a small porpoise called the vaquita - Spanish for little cow. The vaquita has been under threat for years, but now the poaching of a rare fish may be driving the tiny Mexican porpoise to extinction. (PRI's The World)

The tiny Mexican porpoises - which reach less than five feet in length - were probably never extremely common, but their population has crashed over the past five years. Acoustical surveys conducted in 2014 and 2015 revealed that there are probably now fewer than 100 vaquitas left.

“We lost 70 to 80 percent of the vaquitas in the past five years,” Barbara Taylor, leader of the marine mammal genetics group at the National Marine Fisheries Service, said recently at the Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in San Francisco, where vaquitas were one of the major topics of conversation. “It was a spectacular, shocking loss.”

Taylor said conservationists had begun to be hopeful about vaquitas after several years of efforts to protect them from nearby fisheries, which had traditionally used gill nets to catch shrimp and fish in the same waters in which the vaquitas swim. Hundreds of vaquitas have died in gill nets over the past few decades, and in 2013 the Mexican government announced a three-year plan to phase out of the use of those nets and protect the porpoises.

Then a new threat emerged. Beginning around 2012, some fishers had started illegally targeting another critically endangered species called the totoaba. Air bladders from these six-and-a-half-feoot-long fish are valued in traditional Chinese medicine and sell for upwards of $3,800 a pound.

Read the rest at TakePart

Related: This Could be the Last Chance to Save Mexico's Vaquita Porpoise From Extinction (TakePart)

  Check out Deep Blue Conservancy

  Check out The Western Ecological Society

  Check out Ecological Group of Costa Verde

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