The ocean's smallest porpoises are vanishing right before our eyes

We’re living in what many are calling the Anthropocene—or, more commonly known as the man-made sixth mass extinction. And, with only thirty known examples left, the vaquitas may soon join the same roster as the dodo and passenger pigeon.

Our smallest porpoise is on the brink of an almost inevitable extinction—the vaquitas. Measuring only five-feet long when fully matured, these “pandas of the sea” perform their often solitary saline acrobatics just off the Gulf of California; vaquitas are mostly self-isolating cetaceans, traveling either alone or in small packs numbering only two or three strong. Such little is known about these secretive sea mammals that no one, truly, has any firm grip on a series of ideas that may help save them for future generations. However, one notion is widely agreed on: to save the vaquitas, we must bring them into the safety of captive management.

“There was another dead vaquita found yesterday,” said Barbara Taylor to The Independent, a marine conservation biologist at the science center, and a member of the vaquita recovery committee, on Wednesday. The vast majority of the vaquita deaths within the past six-years have been caused by disused draw-lines, left unattended to wreak havoc all along the Pacific.

The nets have become so prolific in the waters off the Gulf of California, in fact, that the vaquitas are, basically, swimming through a nylon landmine field.

“We’re all very depressed about that. The committee meeting will be making very clear that any vaquita that’s basically not taken out of its dangerous habitat is probably going to die,” Taylor adds.

With so few left, genetic diversity is also pushing them closer off to the proverbial cliff of extinction; should the remaining population breed, all spawned offspring would be, essentially, cousins to one another.

And adding to the dumpster fire that is their on-going fight to thwart-off extinction, Mexican authorities are taking a less-than active approach to safeguarding the species from future unnecessary deaths.

“We need the public’s help now to motivate the Mexican government to act to protect the species and the World Heritage site that provides home to the vaquita,” pleads the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in a press release regarding the Mexican government's negligence. “The last hope for the species is the Mexican government immediately putting in place and properly enforcing a permanent ban on gillnets.”

Absent of any optimistic foresight, is it too late to save the vaquita from eminent extinction? Only time will tell—but we should, by no means, help the sands of time flow faster via our ocean-going recklessness.

(Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia)

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