The world’s most rare marine animal is on the borderline of extinction. Discovered in 1958, the vaquita has only been in existence for a little over half of a century. Due to the illegal use of gillnets and fishing operations within Mexico’s Gulf of California, as few as 30 vaquitas still survive.
The vaquita is a mammal that resembles that of a dolphin- vaquita meaning “little cow” in Spanish. They are shown with a dark ring around their eyes, and a thin dark line around its lips that forms a permanent smile. Along with being the most rare, they are the smallest living cetacean- weighing only up to 120 pounds, and growing only up to 5 feet in length.
CIRVA, an international team of scientists established by the Mexican government, estimated that there were only about 200 vaquitas in existence as of 2012. By 2014, fewer than 100 survived, estimating that over half of their population had been demolished in only two years. As of February 2017, only 30 vaquitas have been estimated to still be living, meaning that the number has declined since.
The issue we see with the vaquitas is that they are often accidentally killed. Since they love the shallow waters of the Gulf, they are often swimming near the top. Along the shallow surface, fishermen (specifically hunting for totoaba) set up gillnets. Though the fisherman are looking to catch the totoabas, they often kill the vaquitas when they get tangled in the net, causing them to drown. There have been a few limitations in hopes to save these animals, and cut back on the activity of illegal fishing. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto declared an emergency two-year ban on gillnets throughout the range of the vaquita, beginning in May 2015.
The totoaba that is meant to be caught by the fishermen is a high commodity for the Chinese people. It’s swim bladder is seen as a tremendous health food in China, therefore making it in high demand. They are over 6 feet long, and 300 pounds; their swim bladders selling for thousands of dollars on the blackmarket. This craze in China has become known as the “aquatic cocaine” to the Chinese people, as they literally smuggle the bladder from Mexico to China.
Is the $2,000+ swim bladder really worth pushing two species into extinction?