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Endangered Organisms – Vaquita

One of the world’s most endangered organisms is vaquita (Phocoena sinus), native to the northern Gulf of California. The animal got its name from the Spanish name vaquita, which means little cow. Scientists first identified this animal in 1958 when they found its’ unique skulls on the beach (Manjarrez-Bringas et al., 2018). The organism is classified as endangered in less than a hundred years, making it an ideal subject for this discussion. With their unique traits, spectacular behavior, and specific habitat, vaquitas continue to be among the most endangered animals on the planet.

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Vaquitas’ population has faced a sharp decline over the decades. A recent study by Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. (2019) estimated the population of vaquitas to be less than nineteen. They are the smallest living organisms of cetacean, averaging 140-150 cm in length (Jaramillo-Legorreta et al., 2019). A vaquita has a rounded head, a tall triangular dorsal fin with little or no beak, and at least some protrusion of the upper jaw at the bottom of its melon. They exhibit a dark-grey pigmentation on their upper body, which fades gradually down the sides.

Vaquita’s habitat is only found on a small portion of the Sea of Cortez. The animal is known to live in shallow lagoons, less than 150-foot depth, and less than 25 km from the shore of turbid waters (Quiroz et al., 2018). The examinations of the stomach of dead Vaquitas reveal that these organisms are not selective about their diet (Juarez et al., 2016). Apart from crabs and squid, they feed on a variety of groundfish species. Vaquitas are known to be secretive and hence, require an environment free of intrusion. They are mostly seen singly or in pairs, rarely gathering groups of a maximum of ten organisms. Vaquitas echolocate through the use of a sequence of high-frequency chinks.

The most severe threat to the existence of vaquitas is gillnetting in their territory. Gillnets are useful for commercial fishing, but they are indiscriminate and often lead to vast bycatch, posing a threat to organisms such as the vaquita. Some vaquitas are, however, lucky to disentangle, but they only swim away with severe injuries. Even worse, vaquitas share surroundings with totoaba, which are highly sought-after fish in the Chinese black-market (Juarez et al., 2016). The Defenders of Wildlife point out that the Vaquita Refuge Area is to be a secluded locale for fish (Juarez et al., 2016). However, illegal fishing still goes on in the area, and the culprits get away with minimal consequences. Another danger to this animal is the Colorado River’s fallen inflow, which has reduced the influx of nutrients for the thriving of the organism. Contamination related to pollution around the territories is also a threat to the animal.

Individuals and various international bodies are putting efforts to save the vaquita. The government should impose a strict ban on gillnets in the Sea of Cortez. Those caught breaking the imposed restrictions need to face severe consequences such as lengthy jail terms and hefty fines. Doctor Anna Hall of the Porpoise Conservation Society says that the only thing to worry about is gillnets, arguing that the removal of gillnets will help save the vaquita (Quiroz et al., 2018). The International Whaling Commission agrees that the conservation of vaquita is possible if rigorous enforcement measures are to be put in place to prevent the use of gillnets and illegal fishing in the Gulf of California (Manjarrez-Bringas et al., 2018). Juarez et al. (2016) underscore the need to raise awareness regarding the significance of protecting this species. People can sign an online petition to push the Mexican government to boost its efforts, refrain from Mexican shrimp, support the Gulf of California through tourism, shop for sustainable edible fish, and donate to conservation quests. Vaquitas are facing extinction, but government regulations and proper enforcement can save the rare species.

References

Jaramillo-Legorreta, A. M., Cardenas-Hinojosa, G., Nieto-Garcia, E., Rojas-Bracho, L., Thomas, L., Ver Hoef, J. M., & Tregenza, N. (2019). Decline towards extinction of Mexico’s vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus). Royal Society Open Science, 6(7), 1-11. Web.

Juarez, L. M., Konietzko, P. A., & Schwarz, M. H. (2016). Totoaba aquaculture and conservation: Hope for an endangered fish from Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. World Aquaculture Society. Web.

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Manjarrez-Bringas, N., Aragón-Noriega, E. A., Beltrán-Morales, L. F., Cordoba-Matson, M. V., & Ortega-Rubio, A. (2018). Lessons for sustainable development: Marine mammal conservation policies and its social and economic effects. Sustainability, 10, 2185. Web.

Quiroz, G. R., Quiñonez, W. V., Ocampo, H. A. G., & Rubio, A. O. (2018). Can the vaquita be saved from extinction? Human-Wildlife Interactions, 12 (2), 284–290. Web.

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