Wildlife & Biodiversity

Extinction threat: Vaquita porpoise global population down to only 10

The species saw a 98% decline in population in 2 decades

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Friday 15 April 2022

Vaquita porpoise, found in the Gulf of California in Mexico, is nearing extinction and immediate measures are needed to save the remaining population, said the United States Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) April 11, 2022. 

The population of the species declined 98 per cent in two decades, according to the Report on using expert elicitation to estimate total unique vaquitas and calves in the Zero Tolerance Area with recommendations for future research effort

Around 570 animals were recorded in 1999 and this fell to 10 animals in 2019, according to CEC, a collaborative body working for the environmental, economic and social linkages between Canada, Mexico and the United States to conserve, protect and enhance the North American environment.

The body has recommended developing a factual record to explore factors contributing to the near-extinction of the species.

The vaquita porpoise is the world’s smallest cetacean and the most endangered marine mammal. It has the smallest range of any whale, dolphin or porpoise, and only lives in a small 1,500 square-mile area in Mexico’s upper Gulf of California, near the town of San Felipe. 

It has a rounded head and black patches around its mouth and eyes. It only measures up to five feet in size. It has been listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List as ‘critically endangered’. 

This recommendation came as a response to a submission on Enforcement Matters of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement by the Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Welfare Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Investigation Agency filed August 21, 2021. 

The submission stated: The Mexican government is failing to effectively enforce several environmental laws and as a result has caused the near extinction of the vaquita porpoise. Approximately only 10 vaquita remain.

“The vaquita population has been declining precipitously for decades due to bycatch in gillnets set to catch shrimp and fish, including totoaba — a large, endangered fish that is threatened by illegal fishing for international markets,” it added. 

The Mexican law generally prohibits the use of gillnets within the vaquita’s habitat in Upper Gulf of California and bans the catch and commercial export of totoaba. Totoaba is also protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the submission stated. 

It added that despite these bans and plans to protect the species from bycatch, the Mexican government has failed to “fully implement and enforce its laws banning deadly gillnets and otherwise regulating fishing to protect the vaquita.”

The secretariat of the CEC wrote: 

A factual record could provide information on the number and type of vessels detained by Mexican authorities; the number of vessels present each day; actions to address recidivism; net recovery; ongoing monitoring and surveillance measures and the effectiveness of such measures; and policies and programs encouraging the sustainable use of natural resources in the Upper Gulf of California for the benefit of all persons.”

Citing the porpoise species’ population as “dangerously low”, the submission states that if the Mexican government does not rectify the failure of enforcement of its bans, its extinction may be imminent. 

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