International Save the Vaquita Day
If you think Panda Bears are cute (sneezing Panda videos, anyone?), you’ll love the Vaquita. Vaquitas are a type of porpoise—a marine mammal related to dolphins. This specific species is the smallest porpoise, measuring just 5 feet on average. These cuties are easily-recognizable due to the dark black circles around their eyes, which is why they’re known as the Panda of the Sea. Vaquitas don’t usually jump, splash or slap their tails, and they purposefully avoid nearby boats. They tend to travel in pairs, and they locate objects with high frequency clicks. They are truly, absolutely adorable. Proof:
Sadly, Vaquitas are disappearing. There were an estimated 600 Vaquitas living in Mexico’s Gulf of California in 1997—in 2018, that number has dropped to less than 30! This staggering drop is due to fishing with gillnets, which accidentally entangles the Vaquita and other marine life as fishermen try to catch shrimp and other species mostly for export markets to the USA and Mexico.
Illegal fishing for the Totoaba, a large white fish prized on the Chinese black market for its swim bladder and often sold for thousands (!!!) of dollars, is a primary driver of Vaquita deaths. To capture Totoaba, fishermen use gillnets, which are vertically-hung fishing nets that trap fish by their gills. Because of these gillnets, Vaquitas get trapped as unintended by-catch, making them the most endangered marine mammal.
Over a year ago, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio met in Mexico to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to save the critically endangered Vaquita population. The MOU includes a ban on gillnet fishing with a commitment to accelerate development of fishing gear that does not endanger Vaquitas. The MOU also included a commitment to increase prosecution of Totoaba poaching and illegal fishing and a commitment to explore opportunities for the creation of Vaquita sanctuaries. Although valiant in effort, and much-needed, today we are still dealing with a dwindling Vaquita population.
We recently spoke with Dave Bader, the Director of Education at the Aquarium of the Pacific and an involved member in Vaquita conservation efforts. He spoke about the strong leadership needed to ensure the continuation of the species:
“Mexico signed an MOU to protect the Vaquita, but the resources to actually accomplish the task are not there. Illegal activities are still too high, the lack of enforcement still too low. More also needs to be done to support communities and fisherman caught up the conservation efforts. The USA, Mexico and China are not doing enough. There are enough alive today to recover the population, but serious and drastic actions need to be taken now.”
So what can you do? Today, July 7th, is International Save the Vaquita Day. Please help us raise awareness and incite support for Vaquita conservation by making some noise. Post on social media and use the hashtags #4aPorpoise and #SavetheVaquita.
Additionally, if you can, we urge you to make a donation to the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO). They’re working within the communities surrounding the Gulf to support conservation of the Vaquita. At the heart of it, many conservation issues are about working with people to make sustainable living a priority. CEDO is at the forefront of this work. Read more about CEDO’s work and donate to the SAVE THE VAQUITA Fund here.