THE VAQUITA (Phocoena sinus)
The Vaquita, meaning tiny cow, was recognized in 1958 due to skull findings, but they were fully described in 1985 when live sightings were found of them. The Vaquita is one of six species of porpoise. It is undeniably one of the smallest cetaceans in the world, and probably one of the cutest along with it. At maximum, Vaquitas will reach about 4 feet, 11 inches in length with females being larger. Calves, alone, are roughly 28 to 38 inches long at birth. Their maximum known life span is 21 years. Females reach maturity at around 3 to 6 years of age while males are thought to be similar. Female Vaquitas are thought to give birth once every two years with a gestation period of 10 to 11 months. Vaquitas are known to feed on ocean fish, and squid.
Unfortunately, the Vaquita is also one of the most critically endangered cetaceans in the world, as they fall victim to fishing gears and gill nets. Despite the predators of Vaquita possibly consisting of large sharks and killer whales (possible is said because it has never been directly recorded), it is human intervention that causes the most casualties as, at the very least, some 30 Vaquitas, to as many as 80-90, will die per year. As such, the Vaquita is extremely rare, and can only be found in the Northern portion of the Sea of Cortez.
The vaquita is endemic to the relatively murky, shallow waters of the northern Gulf of California, near the estuary of the Colorado River. Most sightings have been in water less than 130ft/40m depth and within about 25 miles/40km of shore.
As stated, the Vaquita is critically endangered and time is quickly running out for them. It is estimated that there are LESS than 100 individuals left and at the rate that they are being killed, extinction is very imminent - possibly even 2 years from now.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP THE VAQUITA? A LOT!
"Become a responsible consumer– In a perfect world, the Upper Gulf’s fisheries would all be certified as sustainable, but as of today none of them are. We are slowly moving towards that scenario. With NGOs, the government and fishermen are working in collaboration to improve fisheries management and fishing practices. But in the mean time, we can try to become responsible consumers. Buy fish and shrimp directly from cooperatives that actively participate in vaquita conservation efforts. This will create an incentive to stay involved by helping local micro economies thrive. While the region is best known for its shrimp fishery, fishermen engage in a wide array of fisheries that provide great quality products that are harvested responsibly.
Support groups working in the area – There are many groups working on the field and everyone could use your help. Get involved by volunteering or doing internships with NGOs. It is definitely a great way to learn about the region while meeting great people. If you can’t make it to the Upper Gulf, there are other great ways to get involved. Providing economic support to any of the groups involved is great, as is signing petitions and spreading the word about the issues. The most important thing is that you always try to find out exactly how local communities will benefit from your actions.
Support local economies– Now that many of the fishermen are retiring from fishing and starting new businesses, it is important to support them in their new endeavors. If you travel to the area try staying in any of the ecological lodges, or maybe have a nice meal in a restaurant set up as part of the vaquita conservation program. Many of the fishermen are now entering into the ecotourism industry so make sure your sightseeing or fishing trip is set up with one of them. For a list of some of the new businesses in the region you can visit CEDO’s web page, or simply ask around and people will point in the right direction. Remember that the more support these communities receive, the better chance we have of keeping the waters gillnet free.
Ask questions, join the conversation– Vaquita conservation is complex and very dynamic. It involves environmental issues as well as social, political and economic matters. Do not be afraid to ask questions. There are many wonderful people willing to spend time talking about the issues. Whether you want to talk to someone from an NGO about environmental aspects, to a fisherman about fishing and their view on sustainability, or even someone from the government, understanding the situation is the first step towards finding a solution.”
You can also SYMBOLICALLY ADOPT A VAQUITA HERE:
Another website with more information on what you can do to help.
http://www.savethewhales.org/vaquita.html (MUSIC PLAYS. Have your sound off if this bothers you.)
Here are also some petitions that can be signed, at the very least!: