Environmentalists were mostly guessing when they said the vaquita porpoise population in the wild could number as many as 90 individuals. More realistic numbers talked about only 60 representatives of the species swimming in Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California. However, the latest report that was which was published in late November 2016 shows only 30 vaquitas are left in the wild, threatened by imminent extinction.
Over the course of just one year, between 2015 and 2016, officials say the vaquita porpoise numbers plummeted by 50 percent, adding up to a total decline by 90 percent over the past five years.
CIRVA, short for the International Committee for the Recovery of Vaquita warned about the dangers gill nets pose to the remaining individuals, saying the situation got completely out of hand. Fishermen generally use gill nets to capture shrimp and fish, including the totoaba which also takes a place on the critically endangered list alongside the vaquita porpoise. Maw, the swim bladder of the totoaba, also dubbed “aquatic cocaine”, is considered a delicacy in several regions across Asia and can sell for as much as $5,000 a pound.
CIRVA officials say the vaquita porpoise population’s decline in mainly attributed to the illegal use of gill nets in which they get tangled and drown.
Vaquita Porpoise Conservation Measures
In spite of the conservation measures in place, the situation has worsened, say the authors of the CIRVA report. Some argue that the ban on gill nets lacks enforcement. However, enforcement comes as the least of concerns, given the fact that the ban which was implemented almost two years ago will expire in April.
Because of this, Mexican officials have designed a more dramatic plan to save what’s left of the vaquita porpoise population. Starting this spring, the U.S. Navy and Mexican authorities will work together in an effort to capture the remaining individuals and transport them to a safe location where they could breed.
However, the plan does not come without controversy. Given the fact that vaquitas have never been bred or, at least, known to survive in artificial environments, some fear that the few females will die in the process, ultimately dooming the species altogether.
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