Nation & World

These tiny porpoises are going extinct. Can a larger sanctuary save them?

Mexican authorities announced on April 20, 2018, that they would expand the protected area of the vaquita porpoise, the world's most endangered marine mammal.
Mexican authorities announced on April 20, 2018, that they would expand the protected area of the vaquita porpoise, the world's most endangered marine mammal.

Its name means "little cow" in Spanish — and it's the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Now, the tiny vaquita porpoise is getting protections that could help it survive.

In a bid to help this species only found in the northern part of the Gulf of California, Mexican officials announced last week that they're enlarging the vaquita's sanctuary by about 45 percent, to cover an area of 1,143.94 square miles, according to Mexico News Daily.

Mexican Environmental and Natural Resources Secretary Rafael Pacchiano Alemán said in a tweet that the decision was made based on acoustic monitoring data on the species and on the recommendation of experts.

"The vaquitas will be safe," Pacchiano Alemán said in Spanish.

The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita has documented sightings of the vaquita porpoise outside of the current sanctuary boundaries, according to El Universal.

Alejandro Olivera, the Mexican representative for the Center for Biological Diversity, told Mexico News Daily that authorities knew the original protected area wasn't large enough to cover the habitat, and the expansion still doesn't completely cover it.

Olivera added that what will really save the vaquita would be the elimination of illegal gillnet fishing in the area and an end to trafficking of totoaba swim bladders.

The gillnets are used to catch totoaba fish, an endangered fish species, whose swim bladders are prized in China, according to the Marine Mammal Commission. Vaquita porpoises die when they become entangled in the nets.

The latest report from CIRVA, which was released in December 2017, said that only 30 vaquita porpoises were alive as of November 2016, and that number has continued to decline.

"Without dramatic improvement in keeping gillnets out of the vaquita's habitat, Mexico will lose its largest endemic mammal," the report said.

In May 2015, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto declared an emergency two-year ban on gillnets within the vaquita's range, but the species' decline continues.

Trips aboard the Princess Monterey Whale Watching boat The Greatland thrilled watchers this week, with sightings of lunging whales and dolphins.

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