The heart wrenching saga of the vanishing Vaquita continues, with the latest reports indicating that the 30 that were reported in 2017 have now been reduced to only 12. Andrea Crosta, the director of Elephant Action League, a watchdog wildlife group reported in March 2018 that no more than a dozen Vaquita remain.
“My current sources confirmed to me that we are now talking about a dozen vaquitas left in the Sea of Cortez. The scientists are using sonic buoys to count them, through echolocation, and numbers are now really low.” Stated Crosta in an interview with Mongabay and reported in a Blue Ocean post in May. (artwork – Greenpeace)
Illegal Gillnets Causing near Extinction
The Vaquita porpoise is being driven to extinction by fishermen in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez using outlawed gillnets to catch totoaba. The swim bladders of the totoaba are highly valued when sold on the black market in China as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine. Unfortunately, the small vaquita porpoises are often the victim of bycatch in the illegal gillnets.
“According to first-hand information coming from our undercover teams in Mexico and China, the market for the totoaba’s swim bladder (maw) is still strong, and Chinese traders, including those living in Mexico, are still buying a lot of maw from the Mexican totoaba cartels and smuggling it into China through various means. Hong Kong seems to be an important smuggling hub, while most of the totoaba maw goes to southern China, to the cities of Shantou and Nan’aoj, for example” Crosta explained. (photo – NOAA Fisheries)
Efforts to protect the vanishing vaquita undertaken by the Mexican government and International organizations like Sea Shepherd, have proved ineffective. They included attempts to capture several porpoises and move them into reserves, where they could be protected and allowed to breed. However, the stress of capture forced this program to be abandoned.
“Even if they kill all the vaquitas, we owe it to them to tell their full story, the truth, and we want to take down those responsible, who are not the fishermen, by the way.” Crosta concluded.
Can the Vanishing Vaquita be Saved? In the Lab!
These ominous developments have led the San Diego Institute for Conservation Research to take drastic steps to preserve something of the Vaquita for the future. Tissue samples of two Vaquita collected last year have now been stored in the Institute’s Frozen Zoo, a repository of genetic material from endangered species. Scientists caution, however, that the genetic material taken from just two individuals is not enough to save the species if they go extinct in the wild.
“We hope and trust that useful information will result that may benefit other endangered species of threatened porpoises. And we are saddened to think that one day, these tissue samples may be all that is left of this animal” said Oliver Ryder the director of conservation.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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