Vaquitas are calling for help… Can you hear them?
The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is the smallest and rarest marine mammal — there are as few as 10 individuals left in the world. At less than five feet in length, they can be recognized by a distinctive black border around their eyes. Vaquitas, which literally means “small cow,” are only found in the northern Gulf of California, one of the most biodiverse waters on the planet. This little porpoise wasn’t discovered until 1958 and a little over half a century later, we are on the brink of losing them forever.
The vaquita is a victim and a symbol of yet another vulnerable marine species forced to the brink of extinction due to commercial fishing and illegal wildlife trade. Every year nearly one out of three vaquitas get entangled and drown in gillnets intended for other marine species like the totoaba, a critically endangered fish also found in the upper Gulf of California. In 2015 the estimation was of 59 vaquitas remaining; in 2018 only 19. This is losing 31% of the population every year. While extensive efforts are underway by Pesca ABC and local fisherfolk to clean up these abandoned nets, net retrievers are unable to keep up with the influx of this deadly fishing gear.
Acoustic monitoring has been the method used for estimating vaquita population and determining the areas with higher vaquita concentration that will require more protection since 2012. This method is more effective and less expensive than visual surveys; although less accepted by policy-makers. Acoustic surveys determine the sites where more protection is needed to save vaquitas. Vaquita monitoring benefits other ocean animals like sea turtles, and supports local fishers to work in science and conservation activities to build awareness among the local population — a benefit to all species in the region.