In the advancing world of the 21st Century, many things can be seen coming to a close. Over many years, the world has experienced the end of the Cold War, the end of smallpox, and even the end of the age when the mullet hairstyle was popular. However, not all of the closures are as optimal. In the upcoming years, it is expected that the Vaquita, the smallest and most endangered marine mammal, could be determined extinct.
The Vaquita, meaning "little cow" in Spanish, has the smallest range of any marine mammal. The species is extremely shy and are very rarely seen. They live only in the northern end of the Gulf of California, Mexico. The small porpoise reaches a length of four to five feet and around 120 pounds. This porpoise's unique facial markings around its eyes and lips gives the Vaquita a smiling appearance. However, the endangered Vaquita has no reason to smile.
The Vaquita was first discovered in 1958, but the species is looking towards extinction by 2025. With as many as 567 in 1997, it is sad to know that a recent search in 2018 suggests that only 12 Vaquitas now exist in the wild. The rapid decline of population is not due to the Vaquita's vulnerability, but the illegal fishing of the Totoaba. This large and endangered fish is prized in China for its swim bladder, which can sell for thousands of dollars on the black market. Large numbers of the Vaquita population are entangled and drowned in the fishnets meant for the Totoaba, and the Vaquita inches towards extinction as the demand for the swim bladder persists.
The Mexican government and US have been working together, taking many steps towards saving the Vaquita since 2004. A two-year ban on gillnets was enforced in 2015 around the Gulf of California. A Vaquita Refuge was established, a captive breeding program was initiated, and fisherman who depended on the area were given monetary compensation. Regardless of these efforts, the Vaquita population steadily continues to decrease.
As of 2018, scientists believe that continuing to enforce the gillnet ban and raising awareness is all we can do for the Vaquita. In the hopes of saving other species from the Vaquita's fate, we can learn from our previous mistakes. As a team, we can work together to raise awareness of situations like the Vaquita and lessen our negative impact on the environment. Although it may be too late to save the Vaquita, the lessons learned in the effort to prevent its extinction are truly priceless.