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The Vaquita – Criticaly endangered

By Alexandra Talbot

Imagine the last vestiges of mankind: the survival of perhaps 300 of us - man and woman.

Imagine the fear, the threat of extinction, the overpowering feelings of insecurity; and, the unknown lingering shadows to which we could fall prey. But, these are imaginings we are not faced with. Were we, however, we are gifted with the ability to think, prepare, and watch out for potential dangers, for threatening situations.

The Vaquita is one of EDGE's target species. The EDGE of Existence programme aims to conserve the world's most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species by implementing the research and conservation actions needed to secure their future.

Vaquita - The world's rarest
porpoise with less than 200
left alive.

Vaquita are found only in a small area of productive, shallow water in the northernmost Gulf of California. They are listed as endangered species by the United States and Mexico and critically endangered by the World Conservation Union.  

The Vaquita is a Cetacean, a private and atypical porpoise, which thrives in the northern waters - the camouflaged-like lagoons and shorelines - of the Gulf of California. Unlike the usual and discernible "friendliness" of the dolphin, the Vaquita appear evasive and when they are observed their life-style seems to be one of leisure and avoidance. They are known to feed - indiscriminately - on small fish and squid in the shallows of their environs.

The Vaquita grows to approximately 5 feet and will weigh up to 110 pounds. Their life expectancy is about 20 years. Their pregnancies are about 10 to 11 months, and it is believed that they give birth to their calves in the springtime. They are "classic" in appearance, and quite shy in nature. They are physically similar to the Totoaba and sea bass, and inadvertently hunted as such.

Sonar provides the means for their travel and interactive communications. They tend to avoid human contact, but have on occasion struck with ferocity. A para-sense (if you will) of man's intrusion into their natural surroundings might very well pose a threat to their sense of survival. What they do appear to have in common with us is an innate sense of self-protection and preservation, but not when it comes to the threat imposed by local fishermen and the gillnets and trawling methods they use to snare their "catch."

In 2005, the Mexican government declared the waters north of San Felipe, Baha, Mexico, The Vaquita Refuge. These waters are reportedly the central habitat for approximately 80% of the surviving 300 Vaquita porpoises. However, trawling and fishing restrictions were very limited in and around the refuge, and almost spat upon by the local fishermen as quoted in Nature, 2007, "Fishing industry advocates sometimes speak openly of wiping [the Vaquita] out ... Earlier programmes to alter fishing practices in the region have proven difficult to implement; last year, $1 million from the government that ostensibly paid regional fisherman not to fish instead went to buy new boats and motors."

Edge of extinction
Fishing may well be the obvious means of livelihood for the locals of the area, but thoughtless and inconsequential consideration for the danger and contribution to near extinction of the Vaquita is inexcusable. Fortunately, more strident measures have since been set in place. They are more protective and pro-active in watching over vaquitas and turtles (another dearly endangered wildlife animal).

The Vaquita also faces other potential risk factors such as our use of chlorinated pesticides, and decreases in the supply of freshwater from the Colorado River. Direct threats and/or "collateral" threats to their survival lie at the sole of man - of you and me.

To most of us, life, survival, and continuity - be it human and/or wildlife - is too precious to be shunned because it is not a part of our immediate existence. What we choose to do, or not do, reflects back into our lives and becomes intrinsically kneaded into the patterns that determine our future for generations - forever.

My thoughts are given more depth in Henry Beston's words, "We need ... a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals... In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time..."