The Case of the Vanishing Vaquita

The Victim:


Vaquita. Illustrations courtesy of Brett Jarrett.

The Vaquita whose name means ‘little cow’ and is known as the ‘panda of the sea’, is a small porpoise that is in danger of becoming extinct. Gillnets used for fishing kill more porpoises than are born annually. The Vaquita is now the most endangered species of marine mammal. They are down to about 200 left in 2011 from 245 in 2008. The habitat of the Vaquita of the coastal waters of the Eastern Pacific ocean, but in this area they are continually threatened by over-fishing, gillnets and lack of education among the fishermen.

The Scene of the Crime:

Vaquita caught in fishing net. Courtesy – Alejandro Robles

The range of this problem is in the Gulf of California near Baja. This is where the porpoises live out their lives. Fishermen who are trying to earn a living are capturing and killing the porpoises when they haul in their catches for the day. The area that the fishermen fish in is the main area where the Vaquita live and breed.
In fact the Latin name Phocoena sinus, tells us that the Vaquita has a limited range and lives in a pocket or bay.

Facts About the Victim:

The species is the Vaquita, the smallest of the 7 species of true porpoises.

Class – Mammalia
Order – Cetacea
Suborder – Odontoceti
Family – Phocoenidae
Genus -Phocoena
Species – Phocoena sinus

It lives in the warm coastal waters of the Pacific in a tiny area in the Gulf of California near Baja, Mexico. The Vaquita was listed as Vulnerable in 1978, Endangered in 1990, and Critically Endangered in 1996. This is based on the less that 250 mature population count.

Study of the Victim:

Conservation of the vaquita Phocoena sinus

A study that shows the history of the Vaquita, the area where they live and the problems they face, mainly gillnets from fishermen. They focused on conservation and education to help the Vaquita survive. Through petitions and pressure from non-governmental organizations, the Mexican government started making changes to help the Vaquita. The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) was developed to promote and develop a recovery plan for the Vaquita. The article goes on to describe what has come of this intervention, things that worked and were put into place and things that are still in the planning stages. It also discusses the cultural and political obstacles of trying to help the Vaquita make a comeback and not become extinct during our lifetime.
Link to article.

An Expert on the Plight of the Victim:

Dr. Armando Jaramillo is a marine biologist for the University of Baja California Sur and he has a Doctorate in coastal oceanography from the University of Baja California. He has studied marine mammals for 22 years, focusing mainly on aspects of population ecology and dynamics. He has been researching the vaquita population for the last 13 years and is in charge of the project to monitor the species with acoustic methods.

Further Reading to Enhance Your Knowledge About the Victim, the Perpetrator, the Crimes and the Resolutions to Help:

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