Endangered vaquita marina porpoise could be extinct by 2018: WWF

May 16, 2017 by Jean Arce, Sofia Miselem
The tiny vaquita marina porpoise, native to Mexico, may soon be extict if drastic conservation measures are not taken, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature says

The vaquita marina, a tiny porpoise native to Mexico, could be extinct by next year if urgent action including a ban on gillnets is not taken, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature warned.

Fewer than 30 of the rare mammals (Phocoena sinus) still live in the wild, all in the upper Gulf of California, the WWF said in a report Monday.

The vaquita population has plummeted 90 percent in less than six years, down from 250 in 2011.

"If we don't do something today, the vaquita could be extinct by 2018," said Maria Jose Villanueva, director of strategy and science for WWF Mexico. "Losing it would be like losing a piece of Mexico."

Villanueva told reporters that the only known threat to the survival of the vaquita—"little cow" in Spanish—are gillnets, long walls of netting hung vertically that trap fish by the gills when they swim through.

The nets are meant to illegally catch totoaba, an endangered fish about the same size of the vaquita.

Deadly gillnets

Smugglers ship dried totoaba swim bladders to China, where they fetch up to $20,000 per kilo. Totoaba bladder is consumed in soup or used for medicinal purposes.

Gillnets also catch a large number species that are not targeted. The WWF says the nets accidently kill some 700,000 marine mammals and birds around the world each year.

Some 374 gillnets have been removed in the Gulf of Mexico between February 2016 and April 2017, but the vaquita population continues to drop—six have been reported to have died this year alone, Villanueva said.

Nets up to two kilometers long have been removed in the area, Villanueva said.

The Mexican government's two-year ban on gillnet use is set to expire in less than two weeks.

Mexican environmental authorities and conservation groups are working on an emergency plan expected to begin around September to move the vaquitas to a "temporary sanctuary" where they can safely reproduce.

The WWF experts support the measure, despite reservations.

'Desperate measure'

"We see it as a desperate measure," said Jorge Rickards, the interim director general of WWF Mexico.

"We consider this a high-risk measure because nothing like this has ever been done before," he said, fearing the death of even a single vaquita.

Rickards called on the Mexican government for "an urgent plan of action" that includes a permanent gillnet ban in the Gulf of California.

He said the government must also help area residents whose livelihoods depend on fishing.

The Gulf of California, which was officially listed as a World Heritage site in 2005, is a source for half of Mexico's fisheries production.

A broad array of species live in the area, including over one third of the world's marine mammal species, five of the world's seven sea turtle species, and almost 900 fish species, the WWF says.

In its report, titled "Vanishing Vaquita: saving the world's most endangered marine mammal," the WWF called on the government to clamp down on the totoaba trade, and to commit to a plan "for the recovery of the vaquita within its natural habitat that includes specific population increases and timelines."

The conservation group also called on the US and Chinese governments to collaborate with Mexico "to halt the illegal fishing and trade of totoaba" by increasing efforts to "intercept and halt the illegal transport, entry and sale of totoaba products."

Explore further: Mexico to put endangered vaquita porpoises in refuge

Related Stories

Rare vaquita porpoise found dead in Mexico

April 27, 2017

An endangered vaquita porpoise was found dead in the Gulf of Mexico, the country's environmental protection authority said Wednesday, bringing to four the number of dead vaquitas found in 2017.

WWF calls for fishing ban to save last of vaquita porpoises

February 7, 2017

The World Wildlife Fund on Monday called for a complete ban on fishing in the habitat of the vaquita porpoise, noting an international committee of experts has determined that fewer than 30 of the critically endangered mammals ...

Recommended for you

Genome of American cockroach sequenced for the first time

March 23, 2018

A team of researchers with South China Normal University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences has for the first time sequenced the genome of the American cockroach. In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, ...

New innovations in cell-free biotechnology

March 23, 2018

A Northwestern University-led team has developed a new way to manufacture proteins outside of a cell that could have important implications in therapeutics and biomaterials.

Study tracks protein's role in stem cell function

March 23, 2018

MCL-1 is a member of the BCL-2 family of proteins important for blocking apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Many types of cancer cells escape the body's effort to kill them by overexpressing MCL-1.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 16, 2017
From what I have read in other sources, you need about 2000 or more of a species to keep it healthy from inbreeding and extinction. It is sad, but I'm afraid they are already extinct, and have been for several years. The less than 30 left aren't going to amount to any kind of rescue of the species, even if they are all protected until the ends of their lives.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.