Thirty. That is the total number of Vaquita that remain on earth. Just thirty of these rare, Endangered porpoises are living in the northern part of the Gulf of California, and nowhere else on the planet. Today, in addition to being the smallest cetacean, the Vaquita also has the unfortunate title of being the most Endangered marine mammal in the world.
The Vaquita population has been in sharp decline for years, but the rush toward extinction has been accelerated by illegal gill-net fishing for the Endangered Totoaba, a large fish that is sought after for its swim bladder – considered a delicacy in China. The Vaquita’s accidental entanglement in these gill-nets is responsible for the animals’ rapid decline.
In April 2015, the Mexican government announced a two-year ban on gill-net fishing in the Vaquita habitat, and in 2016 a permanent ban was announced. However, illegal fishing continues and so does the subsequent killing of the Vaquita.
Zoos and aquariums, including the Sacramento Zoo, are joining the race to save the Vaquita. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program, focuses the collective expertise and support within the accredited zoo and aquarium community to save species. Through the AZA SAFE’s Vaquita Rescue Project, the Sacramento Zoo and other organizations have pledged more than $1 million to the project, in addition to pledges of staff, equipment, and other in-kind services. But the work must continue. These efforts emboldened Mexican environmental officials to convince their government to commit up to $3 million to the rescue efforts.
Instrumental in the successful effort to save animals like the California Condor and the Black-footed Ferret from extinction, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are also playing a pivotal role in the plight to save the Vaquita. But, time is of the essence. Between 2011 and 2016, there was a 90% decrease in the number of Vaquita. The time is now to save this unique and beautiful species from becoming extinct in our lifetime. If we don’t act to save this little dolphin, who will?