World’s Smallest Porpoise Is Racing Towards Extinction

Posted: Feb 5 2017, 8:56am CST | by , Updated: Feb 5 2017, 9:02am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
World’s Smallest Porpoise is Racing Towards Extinction
Credit: Thomas A. Jefferson

There are now only 30 vaquita porpoises left on Earth

Despite all the efforts to save the world’s smallest porpoise, the numbers of vaquita are down even further. Only 30 vaquita porpoises are now left in the world.

As of December 2015 there were about 60 vaquitas in the Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California, the only place where these small marine animals are found. But latest acoustic data reveals that their population is now reduced to just 30 individuals, suggesting a staggering 50 percent decline between 2015 and 2016.

There were 200 vaquitas in 2011and 100 in 2014. Overall, their population has plummeted by 92 percent in the past 20 years.

“The already desperate situation has worsened despite existing conservation measures and current enforcement efforts. Unless this decline can be stopped by eliminating mortality in illegal gillnets, the vaquita will be extinct in a few years.” Report by the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) said. CIRVA was organized in 1997 and has been overseeing different rescue programs and monitoring vaquita's population ever since.

Vaquita porpoises are distinguished by the dark patches around their eyes and mouth. But the creature has rarely been seen alive. The smallest known porpoise was not discovered until 1958 and just half a century later, we are on the verge of losing them forever.

Their steep decline is mainly blamed on gillnet fishing in marine protected area within the Gulf of California. When local fisherman set gillnets to catch shrimp and other fishes, porpoises also get trapped in those nets and drowned.

To prevent vaquita decline, Mexican government has outlined a series of conservation efforts. A permanent ban on gillnet fishing was enforced on July 2016. Navy ships and drones with high-resolution cameras were also being deployed to spot illegal activities in the Gulf area. Most recently, the U.S. Navy trained dolphins have been used to locate the extremely elusive vaquitas. Experts consider it as the “last-ditch effort” to save remaining few vaquitas from extinction. But there is still no improvement or recovery in their population. At the current rate of loss, the vaquita will likely be extinct by 2022.

“Continued high levels of illegal gillnet fishing, the confirmed deaths of three vaquitas in gillnets earlier this year, and a 50% decline in abundance over the past year demonstrate that present enforcement efforts have been insufficient.” says report.

“There is a critical need for more effective enforcement of existing fisheries regulations.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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