Can We Save the Vaquita?
The Vaquita, the smallest porpoise in the world, which lives only in the Gulf of California is almost extinct. As of 2021, approximately 10 individual specimens have been sighted. Scientists say there cannot be more than two dozen left. According to Porpoise.org, the population of the Vaquita is down from 5,000 specimens in the 1930s. The main cause for their declining population is illegal gill nets, a widely used fishing technique to catch shrimp in the Gulf of California. These nets entangle the animals, eventually drowning them – a cruel way to die for an aquatic animal.
The basis for the decreasing population of the Vaquita is the use of the illegal gillnet. The gillnet is a widely used fishing net that is “made from near invisible nylon mono- and multifilament,” says Richard Parker, a journalist at the New York Times, and author of the article Will Mexico Save Its Vanishing Vaquita? While the nets are used with the intention of catching shrimp, they frequently catch many other creatures, including the Vaquita. The porpoise is entangled in the clear wire, and eventually drowns.
Even though they are illegal in the Sea of Cortez, many fishermen use the nets anyway. This is the problem. These nets are dangerous to the Vaquita, and the fishermen know this. Yet they don’t care. “How are you going to let a town die to care for six animals?” says Rodrigo López Olivo, a fisherman. Mr. López believes that stopping the use of one specific kind of net, will cause an entire town to die. But, there are many new, environmentally friendly nets available. They have the potential to work just as well if not better than gillnets. However, they require practice and skill to use, whereas the gillnet is much easier to pick up.
The Mexican government has implemented a 96-square mile zero-tolerance area, where fishing of any kind is prohibited. However, there is still a very large amount of tolerance in this “zero-tolerance” area. The local law enforcement do not bother to stop the net fishing in the area, and as a result, many fishermen still fish with the illegal gillenets. With no regulation, the implementation of this ban on gillnets is useless, as none of the people using the illegal item seem to care.
As a result of the lack of action to protect the Vaquita by the Mexican government, the United States government has temporarily placed a ban on the import of seafood from the Sea of Cortez. Parker explains why the ban was placed…”The injunction was issued in response to a lawsuit brought by environmentalists complaining that the Trump administration was not enforcing a 1972 law that protects marine mammals from being killed in the process of fishing.” (Parker).
A simple solution would include, restricting not just the use of gillnets, but the possession of them as well. “By banning the possession of gillnets, Mr. López Obrador would slow the killing of both the totoaba and the vaquita and perhaps resolve the trade dispute with the United States.” (Parker). The Totoaba is a fish caught for its swim bladder, which is sold at a high price on the black market to buyers in China. The Vaquita ends up getting caught in the nets meant for the Totoaba. This is the most common reason for their drowning.
The Vaquita is very important in its ecosystem. Crustaceans, squid, and small fish are all prey for the Vaquita. The removal of the Vaquita from this ecosystem could cause its prey to begin overpopulating. A balance of a food web’s population is needed in an ecosystem, and the Vaquita provides that balance.
There would be a large amount of backlash and blame on the Mexican government and fishing communities if the Vaquita was to go extinct. Because the Vaquita is beloved by many, by not helping save the animal, these fishing communities could lose even more of their seafood consumers. The Mexican government could receive an enormous amount of political conflict if they are observed letting one of their local species die out.
Losing the smallest cetacean ever would be devastating, especially if it could have been prevented. Who are we to decide what animals go extinct? We need to take action and help these little animals, before it’s too late.
Parker, Richard. “Opinion | Will Mexico Save Its Vanishing Vaquita?” The New York Times, 19 March 2019, Will Mexico Save Its Vanishing Vaquita? – The New York Times. Accessed 14 December 2021.
“Vaquita.” Wild For Life, Vaquita | Wild For Life. Accessed 4 January 2022.
“Why is the vaquita endangered? — Porpoise Conservation Society.” Porpoise Conservation Society, Why is the vaquita endangered? — Porpoise Conservation Society . Accessed 13 December 2021.
Image credit: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-57070814