How to Save Vaquitas, the Rarest Marine Animal on Earth
For centuries, the smallest cetacean & rarest marine mammal in the world has called the Northern Gulf of California “home.” But time is running out. Threatened by illegal fishing, the Vaquita is on the verge of extinction. And despite global laws being passed to protect it, conservationists still struggle with how to save Vaquitas.
What is the Vaquita?
The Vaquita (pronounced “vəˈkiːtə”) is a member of the porpoise family, found only in the Sea of Cortez. Spanish for “little cow,” these small cetaceans are characterized by dark circles around their eyes and long dorsal fin atop their back.
Because of their rapidly declining population and elusive behavior, sightings are rare, and photographs are even rarer. Though they are known to live to 20 years, they rarely reach adulthood, often killed before fully maturing.
Why is the Vaquita endangered?
As of early 2022, there are less than 20 mature Vaquitas remaining in the wild. Despite efforts to save the species, their population is decreasing by an estimated 50% per year, and are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Illegal Gillnet Fishing
The Vaquita population has been rapidly declining for decades, accelerated by the use of gillnets, an illegal fishing practice.
Gillnets are designed to catch Totoaba, a black market fish that are valued at up to $80,000/kg due to Chinese demand. Considered a sign of social status, and used to treat arthritis & joint pain in Chinese medicine, the bladder is used to make a soup known as “money maw.”
The nets have large enough holes to allow Totoabas to push their head through, but not the rest of their bodies. The net becomes entangled in their gills, leaving them trapped. This inhumane practice often traps Vaquitas as well, a process known as bycatch (when unwanted fish/marine animals are caught while fishing for a different species).
Once entangled, the porpoises are unable to surface for air, causing them to drown.
Though other factors threaten these porpoises, gillnets are the primary threat to the Vaquita’s future.
What's being done to protect Vaquitas?
In 2015, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto instituted a two-year ban on gillnets in the northern Sea of Cortez. And after increasing external pressure from conservationists and NGOs, the ban was made permanent in 2017.
And after overwhelming pressure from conservationists across the globe, a portion of the Gulf of California was added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger.
Despite this, illegal poachers continue to destroy the Vaquita population.
And even with refuge protection, fishing bans, and intervention from conservationists & NGOs, the Vaquita population faces extinction.
So you might be asking, what can I do to help to save the Vaquita?
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Sign the Petition
The gillnet fishing ban was a step in the right direction.
But it’s not enough.
The poachers must be stopped. Conservation NGOs like Sea Shepherd have stepped up their game and convinced Mexico to let them aid with conservation efforts. But even with additional help, Mexican authorities struggle to crack down on illegal fishing.
With increased protection from Mexican authorities, it will be more difficult for the poachers to operate without being caught.
Here’s how to do it:
It takes just 1 minute to help save the Vaquita! We’re petitioning President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to increase law enforcement to deter poachers and illegal fishing.
Adopt a Vaquita
No, not literally.
As cool as it would be to have a pet Vaquita, we don’t support animal captivity of any kind… and we’re betting you don’t have an aquarium that big anyways.
Instead, you can virtually Adopt a Vaquita!
By adopting, you support conservation efforts dedicated solely to their protection.
Support Sustainable Fishing
Poachers often operate under the guise of legal fishing operations. And until there’s an increased enforcement presence, it’s logistically impossible to monitor all fishing operations in the region.
As a consumer, you can help save the Vaquita by boycotting any seafood caught in the Northern Gulf of California.
And if traveling in Mexico, you can help protect these mammals by supporting local tourism. With more money in the local economy, fishermen won’t need to skirt the law and endanger Vaquitas by engaging in illegal activities.
Avoid Single-Use Plastics
This one is a no-brainer.
Vaquitas already face a significant threat from gillnets. They shouldn’t have to worry about plastic too.
With reusable water bottles, grocery bags, utensils, and more, you’ll reduce the amount of plastic entering the ocean.
We’re not great at math, but we do know that
LESS PLASTIC = SAFER OCEANS
Though it may not seem like much help, raising awareness is one of the best things for ocean conservation!
It’s simple really. Solutions are more likely with more people involved.
So tell your friends!
Get them to sign the petition, write their representatives, avoid single-use plastics, and continue spreading the word to save the Vaquitas!
The Vaquitas need your help, and every little bit counts!