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The Vanishing Vaquitas

Vaquitas (Phocoena sinus) are relatively unheard of and soon may only be seen in the history books. With only 30 individuals left these small dolphin-like creatures could soon vanish forever. Their name means “little cow” in Spanish, which was given when discovered relatively recently in 1958.

The Vaquitas occupy a 900-spuare-mile section of the northern Gulf of California. In the nineties, there were around 600 individuals in their home range. Their population has crashed due to overfishing of other target species in the same area. Vaquitas are inadvertently trapped as bycatch and drown in gillnets.

The fisherman are illegally fishing for the endangered Totoaba fish (Totoaba macdonaldi), specifically for its swim bladder, to sell to Asia where it is sought after for its medicinal properties. Fisherman have alternative nets available but gillnets are the easiest option. A ban on the use of gillnets and of fishing in the habitat of the Vaquitas was put into place but without rigorous enforcement, the illegal trade continued. To encourage this trade to stop alternative, more sustainable livelihoods must be found for the fishing communities. A good option would be to encourage the development of eco-tourism attractions.

However, sadly it seems the only way to save these mini-dolphins is to catch the remaining individuals and protect them in an aquatic sanctuary. On 3 April (2017), the government announced a $4million plan for conservationists to patrol the habitat to locate and capture the Vaquitas. No one before has tried to capture, transport or care for wild Vaquita’s before, however this is the last resort for a species which has truly suffered due to the human development of its habitat.

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