You’ve probably never heard of the Vaquita Porpoise before, but it’s an incredible beautiful species. And now scientists think it might go extinct as early as next year.
The Vaquita is not a household name, in spite of its endearing cuteness. And part of the reason for that is their small range: you can only find them in the upper part of the Gulf of California. But soon they may vanish from there as well.
In recent years, Vaquita populations have gone into a sudden and alarmingly sharp decline. Approximately nine out of ten vaquitas have died in the last six years alone. “If we don’t do something today, the vaquita could be extinct by 2018,” said Maria Jose Villanueva, director of strategy and science for WWF Mexico. “Losing it would be like losing a piece of Mexico.”
So what’s to blame for this crisis? Most of you will have already guessed the answer: it’s because of us. Once again, humans have demonstrated that our undisputed dominance of the planet is a nearly unmitigated disaster for marine life.
Although pollution, climate change, and poaching account for many of the human-caused extinction crises that we see in the news continually, in this case the culprit is another one of our most harmful behaviours: fishing nets.
A huge proportion of humanity depends on fisheries for their existence, and as a result of booming populations, pressure has increased to find more and more ways to harvest fish from our oceans, endangering many fisheries to the point that it’s fair to say the oceans are dying.
But in order to catch all those fish for your tuna sandwiches and sushi, fishermen have to use massive nets. They’re not just casting fishing lines with a little bait on the hook. In order to really haul in the amount of fish we all demand, they use huge nets that are indiscriminate in the way they target fish.
And unsurprisingly, animals like the Vaquita end up as collateral damage in this disastrous process, getting caught in the nets and dying. The nets inadvertently kill almost a million birds and marine mammals every year.
The Mexican government is taking measures to stop this practice in time to save the Vaquita. But it might be too late. This beautiful, reclusive, and highly intelligent animal, which was unknown to humanity until the 1800s, may very well be gone by the end of 2018.
So what can you do about it? Even if you can’t help the Vaquita directly, learn about fishing practices in Australia and what your local representatives can do about it through regulations. Otherwise, the Vaquita may just be one of many species that will vanish in our lifetime, wiped out by getting tangled in our nets.