The Quest To Save Vaquita, The World's Smallest Cetacean

First Posted: Feb 28, 2017 04:39 AM EST

The world's smallest cetacean, the vaquita, is now on the verge of extinction. According to the officials, there are no more than 30 vaquitas that are left.

This creature is a rare species of porpoise that can be found in the northern part of the Gulf of California. Vaquita in Spanish is referred to as "little cow." It is also called Gulf of California harbor porpoise, vaquita porpoise, desert porpoise and gulf porpoise. It has gone extinct in 2006 and then become the most endangered cetacean in the world. Its extinction is attributed to bycatch from the illegal gillnet fishery for the totoaba, which is also endangered.

The vaquita's swim bladder is dried and smuggled to China. It is made into an expensive delicacy and believed to have medicinal powers, according to The New York Times.

Barbara Taylor, a marine mammal expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that if they continue the path they are on, they will have no vaquitas in two years. Likewise, Armando Jaramillo Legoretta at the Mexican government's National Ecology and Climate Change Institute said that totoaba poachers have killed 90 percent of the vaquita population since 2011.

So, what could be the steps to save the vaquitas? The experts recommend the Mexican government to capture several specimens that are left and hold them in a sea pen as a way of conserving the species until the hazard to its habitat is removed. This could be last-ditch that conservationists would never have to resort to.

Lorenzo Rojas Bracho, a marine mammal expert at INECC and the chairman of an advisory group, the International Committee for Vaquita Recovery, said that they had always opposed to captivity and there are risks. On the other hand, they are fewer than leaving them with the fishing as it is.

The captivity involves training United States Navy dolphins to locate vaquitas to capture them and transfer them into a temporary pool. Then, move them to a sea pen to be built in their habitat along the Gulf of California coast. 

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