10 REMAIN ALIVE
They are the rarest marine mammal in the world, discovered in 1958. But it only took 60 years for humans to bring them to the brink of extinction. Their population has been dramatically reduced by illegal fishing techniques in protected areas of the Gulf of California. This is their story.
The vaquita is the smallest cetacean in the world, recognized for their distinctive black, circular patch around their eyes and dark lips that make them look as if they are smiling. But this being, today, has no reason to smile. The decrease of their population has been a collateral effect of net fishing aiming for another endangered species, the totoaba. It is estimated that one in every 5 vaquitas that get entangled in these invisible nets, dies by drowning. The moment they get trapped they try to get away, but not being able to do so they quickly go into shock and die. Their sighting, very rare since they hide as soon as a boat approaches, has been near the shore of the gulf, in not so deep waters. It’s getting harder and harder to see them because there are so few of them left. Now, the vaquita is one of the 20 species in critical danger of extinction.
The Gulf of California in Mexico is the last home of the vaquitas where every day they avoid fishing nets. It is unfortunate to think that they are not a species in demand, sought after or listed on a black market, however, victims of illegal fishing to capture the totoaba. The death of vaquitas is a collateral effect, a species who is meeting their end, and we are in the front row watching it happen.
At some point there was an attempt to keep them in captivity, protect them and try to reproduce them, but the vaquita is an extremely delicate species and the experiment turned out to be disastrous. The outcome was that some of them died from stress, died because they were locked up and deprived of their freedom (can you think of other species who suffer this for entertainment?). With this event, the hope of caring and protecting them, in something similar to a sanctuary, disappeared. It would seem that the vaquitas, if they leave this world, will go on their own terms, free despite the dangers that surrounds them.
And we have this, an image that does not represent how many people liked the photo, it is not 10 likes for the drawing of the vaquita, the illustration literally symbolizes the total number of hearts that remain of this species. Today, the fingers of a single person are enough to count how many vaquitas still live in the world: 10.
With that in mind, it is not unusual or surprising to see that there are almost no photos of them. What does exist is a huge number of people who express their concern and pain through art or a message, and hopefully that number will expand, for the sake of the species, for the sake of others, for the sake of the planet, because we have placed the vaquita close to a checkmate.
We dedicate this video to this beautiful being, with drawings, paintings, shapes of them, immortalized in homage to a species that may well disappear in months and that these images of so many people will be our way to remember them, with their characteristic smile in spite of everything that they endure.
Capturing this species has had and still has a drastic, direct and negative impact on the vaquita because when fishing totoabas there is an accidental capture (bycatch) of other species, like vaquitas, who die and get discarted. The totoaba is also an endangered fish with great demand in China, a country where it’s believed that the animal’s bladder improves the condition of the skin, liver and improves blood circulation (something never medically tested). It’s estimated that a kilo of this fish on the black market in China can reach a value of $ 20,000. For this reason, the fishermen of Mexico get paid almost $4000 for each pound of totoaba’s bladder, which is equivalent to half of what they would earn in a year of legal fishing.
The actions of the Mexican Government were to invest 30 million dollars in a project to save the vaquita, and consisted of forbidding the use of these invisible nets in the cetacean refuge in the Gulf of California, as well as buying these nets from the fishermen themselves and provide them with different means of economic income to replace the previous ones. Additionally, a fishing net prototype was developed that prevents vaquitas, turtles, fish, stingrays and other species from being trapped while shrimp fishing, a practice that also has, and has had, an important role and impact on the vaquita’s population decline.
The vaquita is an iconic species of Mexico and advanced genetics is probably the only hope of survival for this cetacean. This is why blood and tissue samples have been collected from the vaquita in the last 2 decades with the purpose of studying them and maintaining a cell bank that allows them to contribute to reproduction through artificial insemination.
Unfortunately, shrimp fishing with nets, the black market for totoaba, illegal fishing and their techniques will be to blame for the disappearance of the vaquita. Now, there are only 10 left and if drastic measures are not taken, they are expected to be extinguished this or next year. Today, the only “home” of this species is a refuge in an area of 64 x 100 km, a place where the vaquita awaits its salvation or probably, its disappearance.
WHY ARE THEY IN DANGER OF EXTINCTION?
The threats for the cetacean are shared with hundreds of other species and we explain them in general in this article. But in the specific case of the vaquita, the most significant are:
Certain types of fisheries use “invisible nets” to catch shrimp, totoaba, and other species. These abandoned nets trap vaquitas, who go into shock and quickly drown and die. In the protected area of the vaquitas, this technique has been prohibited, but even so, many fishermen use it illegally to obtain marine fauna listed on the Chinese black market, such as totoaba.
In China, and many other Asian countries, there are beliefs that many animal parts (organs, skins, horns, and more) have medicinal properties and are curative for a variety of ills and diseases. But this only remains medically unproven beliefs. Even so, tigers, rhinos, elephants, lions, leopards, jaguars, birds, fish, whales and others, are some examples of species illegally hunted in order to sell them on the Asian black market. And while the vaquita is not in the spotlight, the demand for the totoaba has turned them into a fatal side effect.
This means that there is a lack of genetic variation in the vaquitas that still live in the wild. The result is that they are more prone to develop diseases, health problems and a higher risk of infertility which makes their survival even more difficult.
Maybe you don’t live in Mexico, but your daily activities can still affect the vaquita’s life. If we change some habits, the result would have a positive environmental impact on the world’s species, on the vaquita and also on you, on your own survival.
HOW CAN YOU HELP THE AMUR LEOPARD
You can help this cat, and many other species, in several ways. Many activities in your life can finally change the critical state of the Amur leopard, but maybe you don’t know them yet. Look here for a complete list of what else we can do for endangered animals. In this case, you can help them:
As we have mentioned, the demand for the organs of the totoaba causes the collateral death of the vaquitas. In South America this type of practice is not common, but in Asia they are very popular since they believe that the skins, or parts of the body of some animals can cure certain ills. The purchase and demand for medicinal products made with animal skins or organs generates poaching of endangered species.
Uncontrolled fishing is depleting the population of marine species. We are fishing faster than the speed of reproduction of marine animals. In addition, each year the so-called “by-catch” (incidental catch) kills millions of species such as sharks, whales, dolphins and turtles, beings that are accidentally caught in fishing nets destined for shrimp, fish and other species.
Additionally, fishing nets (made of plastic) are abandoned in the sea, which represents a danger for marine life who are trapped and die when trying to escape. Fishing nets are estimated to account for 48% of the total waste from the famous plastic islands.
Check out this Seapiracy documentary about fishing, its environmental pollution and all the dark business behind this industry.
There are several foundations and organizations that are dedicated not only to protect the vaquita, but also to develop new fishing techniques and tools that prevent the vaquita from becoming a collateral effect of the activity. In addition, they seek to educate the people of the region so that they understand the importance of the vaquita in an environmental system and how illegal fishing for other species is threatening their survival.
Remember, the contribution you make, be it small or large, is of immense help for these beings and all the species that need protection.
You can see it this way, once or twice a month, you can choose not to buy a cup of coffee, or not go out to eat at a restaurant or buy drinks, instead, you can use that money to donate and symbolically adopt a cetacean (dolphin), you will receive a WWF certificate. Many organizations allocate 100% of that money to conservation projects.
But, these actions you can take now are: reduce plastic use, avoid products that cause deforestation, eat less meat, eat less fish & seafood, bike to work, car pooling, take public transport, do not buy any type of skins or products made from exotic animals, avoid circuses (places like Sea World), do not pay or take photos with animals, get involved in what’s happening, make donations and report illegal markets.
Let’s remember before moving on that there are only 10 vaquitas left, let’s help them reach 50.
WWF – WORLD WILDLIFE FUND
The world’s leading conservation organization, protecting Nature for 50 years. On their website you can symbolically adopt an cetacean (dolphin), you will receive a certificate of your contribution and a stuffed animal. Think about adopting one with your friend or your family.
A foundation focused on the protection of the Vaquita. Donations are intended for ongoing efforts to educate and defend this species.
DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE
Their efforts are dedicated to the defense of endangered species. 97% of donations are destined for programs and support services, the remaining 3% are invested for fundraising campaigns.
We hope we have managed to inform you and convince you to get involved and contribute to the cause. We ask that you please share this blog and the video with friends and family. Remember that there is a list of 20 species in critical danger of extinction followed by dozens more that could soon join and increase that list. #LifeIsDying #DontLetIt #FightForIt
MORE SPECIES IN CRITICAL DANGER OF EXTINCTION
SOUTH CHINA TIGER
CROSS RIVER GORILLA
YANGTZE FINLESS MARSOPA
Photos of endangered animals. The 10 best images of the vaquita shared by people seeking to raise awareness about the species.
Test your knowledge of topics we’ve covered in these blogs and series.