Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Will the vaquitas go extinct this month?

Posted by: Kevin Heath / 2 days ago

A new report about the situation of the world’s smallest porpoise raises concerns over the survival of the species. With fewer than 25 breeding females estimated to be left and the totoaba fishing season about to get underway this month could determine the future of the species.

The report, produced with the help of the WWF, Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas and US Marine Mammal Commission, shows how nets used to catch the totoaba fish have devastated the vaquitas porpoise population.

At the last meeting of members of a conservation group set up to protect the vaquitas, CIRVA, in 2012 there was an estimated population of 200 individuals, two years later and the number has halved with less than 25 thought to be breeding females. At current rates of population decline the species is set to go extinct by 2018 but if the breeding females are particularly hard hit as by-catch this month then it may be the end for the species.

The vanquitas porpoise lives in the Sea of Cortez along the coast of Mexico. Unfortunately their habitat also coincides with the habitat of the totoaba fish – and the swim bladders of the totoaba are a popular delicacy with Chinese diners. With the fishing season about to start the deadly by-catch could sign the end of the vanquitas species if the breeding females are lost this year.

The vanquitas only live in a small part of the Sea of Cortez and were only discovered in 1958. The porpoises are now classified as critically endangered. Officials have tried to protect the species by restricting fishing around the Colorado River basin but the policy has failed to halt the decline.

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