Scientists Estimate The Total Extinction Of Vaquita Porpoises In 2019, With Only 22 Remaining

Scientists Estimate The Total Extinction Of Vaquita Porpoises In 2019, With Only 22 Remaining

Biologists in Mexico are currently warning that the vaquita porpoise, among the smallest and most critically endangered marine mammals in the world, is likely to go extinct by June 2019.

The news comes as experts expect that the total population of the rare mammal, found exclusively in the Gulf of California, to have been thinned out to approximately 22. The number has slightly increased from what was expected, with many estimating that the number of vaquitas had dwindled to as few as fifteen.

Vaquitas are small, five-foot-long cetaceans–the order which includes dolphins, whales, and porpoises–that rely on fish and squid for their diet. With their snub stouts, dark eye patches, and smiling black lips, the vaquita has been referred to as a “marine Mona Lisa.”

Shockingly, much of the fault for their looming extinction lies in the ongoing trafficking of the rare totoaba fish, whose swim bladder is highly valued in China as a delicacy.

As Goldfarb explained:

“They share their habitat with a fish called the totoaba, a mammoth cousin of the sea bass whose swim bladders are a delicacy worth up to $100,000 per kilogram in mainland China and Hong Kong. Although totoaba fishing has been banned since 1975—they, too, are critically endangered—poaching is rampant. Vaquitas, roughly the same size as totoabas, are prone to getting entangled and drowning in illegal nets.”

Every May, the Gulf–also known as the Sea of Cortez–often swarms with fishers seeking the tototaba. Experts now worry that the next totoaba rush could wipe out what remains of the thinned out vaquita population.

Mexican government efforts to halt the poachers have consisted mainly of moves to repress fishers using force, with Mexican marines and federal police deploying non-lethal weaponry against angry fishers, who often fight back to free arrested fellow seamen.

Yet in the bigger picture, the fishermen–mostly poverty-stricken laborers from the Baja coast–argue that they are small-fry targets that are at the mercy of Chinese-Mexican illegal dealers and profiteers that give high-interest loans allowing fishers to acquire nets that cost up to $3,000 each, low-ball the price of totoabas, and sell their goods for an exorbitant profit in China.

Fishers' leader Sunshine Rodriguez told NBC:

“I know people who are dedicated 100% to that (totoaba) business, and don’t even have $10 to put gas in the tank of their panga … The Chinese are making the profit, that I can tell you.”

Investigator Andrea Costa from conservationist group Elephant Action League also noted that Mexican government efforts to crack down on the illegal fishing trade would continue to fail as long as fishers are targeted, instead of middlemen and traders. Thanks to Costa’s efforts, 16 Chinese nationals were recently arrested by the Chinese government because of their role in the illegal totoaba trade.

China, for its part, has maintained that it has a zero-tolerance attitude toward the illegal trade in endangered wildlife. Nevertheless, since the country undertook market reforms in the 1980s, the expanding spending power of Chinese consumers has seen the demand and appetite for exotic fish, and endangered animals translate directly into the depletion of endangered populations across the globe–from West Africa to the Galapagos Islands and now, the Gulf of California.

Featured image credit: Project Vaquita Marina

Scientists Estimate The Total Extinction Of Vaquita Porpoises In 2019, With Only 22 Remaining Scientists Estimate The Total Extinction Of Vaquita Porpoises In 2019, With Only 22 Remaining Reviewed by Katerina Papakyriakopoulou on 5:00 PM Rating: 5

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