First extinction alert for the planet’s rarest marine mammal

Pacific porpoise
—© Paula Olson/NOAA

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) recently issued its first extinction alert in its 70-year history. The latter concerns the Pacific porpoise or vaquita.

Cetacean in danger

THE vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is the smallest cetacean species in the world, measuring between 1.2 and 1.5 meters in length. It is only found in the Gulf of California and it is thought that there are only 10 left, down from around 30 in 2017. This decline in population is due to the fishermen’s use of gillnets, for the illegal hunting of totoaba fish, used in traditional Chinese medicine.

We wanted, with this extinction alert, to send a message to a wider audience and that everyone understands the seriousness of the situation. “, explains Lindsay Porter, vice-president of the scientific committee of the CBI.

The increasingly desperate efforts to save these cetaceans of the’extinction have involved partnering the government with Leonardo DiCaprio’s foundation to commit to conserving their ecosystem, deploying navy-trained dolphins to locate them, and repeatedly attempting to round them up and relocate them to a specially designed marine refuge protected to initiate a captive breeding program. A business abandoned after the death of a female.

In order to prevent gillnet fishing in the area, the Mexican Navy also attempted to create a Zero Tolerance Zone (ZTA) using 193 concrete blocks. A measure associated with a 90% decrease in this type of fishing in the area, but having probably moved the problem to its periphery.

reasons for hope

As critical as the situation of the porpoise In the Pacific, their tiny population appears to have been stable since 2019, with the same number of cetaceans seen near San Felipe, Mexico in 2021 and 2023. All group members, including a juvenile, appeared healthy.

There is at least one new baby vaquita, which indicates that they continue to reproduce Porter points out. ” If we manage to eliminate this pressure alone, the population could recover. We can’t stop now. »

The IWC is calling now for a total ban on gillnet fishing and the establishment of safe and sustainable alternatives to protect the livelihoods of the fishing community and give this species a chance. to recover.

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