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  • A dead California Gulf porpoise, also known as vaquita, in San Felipe. Around 80% of the world’s population has perished as bycatch.

    A dead California Gulf porpoise, also known as vaquita, in San Felipe. Around 80% of the world’s population has perished as bycatch. | Photo: Reuters

Experts say only 30 of these rare creatures are now left in the warm waters of Gulf of California in Mexico, their last remaining natural habitat.

Conservationists in Mexico have expressed concern over the imminent extinction of the Vaquita porpoise, also known as the "panda of the sea" because of the dark rings around their eyes. 

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The Vaquita, which roughly translates to "little cow," was first discovered in 1958, but their numbers have dwindled dramatically. In 1997, a study found about 600 of the rare mammals in the Gulf of California in Mexico, a number that by 2008 had dropped to 250.

Experts are now warning that only 30 of these rare creatures are left in their last remaining natural habitat.

One of the main culprits is fishermen's gillnets: vertical panels of netting widely used in the fishing industry.

The Mexican government has introduced a permanent ban on gillnets, rewarding fishermen who comply with the new rules with monetary incentives. The ministry of environment will also be patrolling the waters to ensure the gillnet ban is being implemented.  

Zoologist Anna Hall told WhoWhatWhy: "The men and women doing legal fisheries are not the issue. We are not dealing with people who are following the law. We’re dealing with people who are working for the black-market trade. 

"These animals are very small and relatively difficult to find because of their remote location in the Sea of Cortez and, of course, now their numbers are very low. To me, it's so incredibly sad that this species could vanish, and most of the world wouldn't even know or notice." 

Widespread commercial fishing and the construction of dams led to the extinction of another porpoise in 2006. The Baiji, a long-nosed freshwater dolphin, had lived in China’s Yangtze River for nearly 20 million years. 

"When that species was declining toward extinction, there was an attempt by the Chinese government to capture those remaining individuals," Marine Biologist Tom Jefferson told WhoWhatWhy. "We believe [it] was done poorly, without using proper scientific knowledge and not following the recommendations of experts, and there were definitely some political and economic considerations that were involved in that operation."

 


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