Vaquitas are cartoonish-looking porpoises that swim around, bothering literally no one. These little guys, which only weigh about 54kg, are found in just one region in the world — the Northern Gulf of California. Their nickname — the "panda" porpoise — comes from the dark rings around their eyes, similar to that of the much-beloved bear. Sadly, over the years, vaquita numbers have plummeted dramatically due to unscrupulous fishing practices, and as a result, there are less than 30 left in the wild — according to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), unless urgent action is taken, the porpoises could be extinct by next July.
Image: Paula Olson via WWF
"The vaquita lives only in the northern part of this World Heritage site ‒- an area affected by illegal and unsustainable fishing practices and wildlife trafficking of the critically endangered totoaba fish, together with urbanisation and increased pollution," the WWF said in a recently released report on vaquita welfare. "Failure to act will result in the imminent extinction of the vaquita."
The WWF is encouraging the Mexican, United States and Chinese governments to collaborate and implement stricter conservation laws in the Northern Gulf. Though a ban on gillnet fishing is currently in place, it will terminate later this month — therefore, the WWF is asking the Mexican government to implement a permanent ban. Gillnets hang vertically in the water column and are intended to grab fish by the gills — but all too often, they end up grabbing marine mammals too, including the vaquita.
"All gillnets in the Upper Gulf should be seized by authorities and destroyed," the WWF wrote. "Any proof of possession or use of gillnets should be accepted as evidence in court."
Hopefully, humanity will be able to clean up its act so that these cute porpoises can swim freely, unencumbered by fear. And nets. And people being the worst.