Sarah Wilson, Ocean Wise Research

The Vaquita is the smallest cetacean and the most endangered marine mammal in the world, with only an estimated 20 individuals remaining. The Vaquita ­– Spanish for “little cow” — is endemic to the Upper Gulf of California in the Sea of Cortez, with a range of only 3,000 km2.

The population has been in decline for decades, due to entanglement and drowning in the gill nets used to target the endangered Totoaba, a large fish exploited for its swim bladders. The Totoaba swim bladder is considered a delicacy with medicinal value in China, often selling on the black market for tens of thousands of dollars.

It has been illegal to fish for Totoaba in Mexico since 1975, but that hasn’t stopped illegal poaching activity, and the fishing ban has failed to slow the decline of the Vaquita. Following the failure of prior conservation efforts, the conservation organization Vaquita CPR carried out an emergency plan to capture some individuals and place them under protection in temporary captivity. Unfortunately, the endeavour was unsuccessful, and the future of this little porpoise remains uncertain.

Saturday, July 6th is International Save the Vaquita Day

The Porpoise Conservation Society will be live broadcasting two events from Vancouver Aquarium.

At 11 am PST, Dr. Anna Hall will give a talk/lecture. Tune in to learn about the world’s most endangered marine mammal, the Vaquita porpoise, and the mission to save this species from extinction.

At 1 pm PST, there will be an interview/conversation-style interactive program with Dr. Hall. Your questions and comments are welcomed at this live interactive broadcast.

Vaquita Q&A with Dr. Anna Hall ─ Porpoise Conservation

LIVE: Join us for a conversation with Dr. Anna Hall, president of the Porpoise Conservation Society. She has been studying and advocating for porpoises for more than 20 years and was part of two international missions in Mexico's Sea of Cortez to save the endangered vaquita porpoise. We welcome your comments and questions for this interactive live broadcast. You can submit your questions about the vaquita, the mission to save the species, ocean conservation or anything in between ─ before or during the program. We will be monitoring the comments for a couple of days as well.#SaveTheVaquita #4APorpoise #Vaquita

Posted by Porpoise Conservation Society on Monday, July 1, 2019

As we reflect on the plight of the Vaquita, we remember other marine mammal populations that have been brought back from the brink of extinction, such as the North Atlantic Gray Whale and the Northern Elephant Seal. These success stories serve as an important reminder of why we shouldn’t stop trying to save some of the earth’s most endangered species, even when it seems like it may be too late.

Here are two inspirational stories of recovery from our local waters.

Success story #1: The Humpback Comeback

The huge accordion mouth, broad tail flukes, and massive white pectoral fins might be a familiar image for many who live near the coastal waters of British Columbia; however, this wasn’t always the case. Whaling wiped out the North Pacific Humpback whale population in the early 1900s. By the time whaling was banned in 1966, it was estimated that a mere 1,400 individuals remained. In recent years, the North Pacific Humpback population has been recovering, and it’s now estimated to comprise 18,000- 20,000 individuals. These majestic animals are frequently observed along the B.C. coast, feeding on small schooling fish and krill in the summer months. Humpbacks still face their fair share of challenges, however. Entanglement and ship strikes are of particular concern for this species, and it’s still listed as a Special Concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.  

Success story #2: The Return of an Important — and Adorable — Keystone Species

Sea otters are considered an important conservation success story in Canada, not only because of the success of efforts to save them but also because of the important role these animals play within the ecosystem. These furry marine mammals, hunted for their fur during the 1700s and 1800s and driven to extinction in Canadian waters, were successfully reintroduced between 1969 and 1972. By 1995, the population had grown to 1,500 individuals and it now stands at around 6,000. By eating sea urchins, which feed on kelp, sea otters control the urchin populations, reducing the destruction of kelp forests and helping to improve the overall functioning of the ecosystem. Kelp forests provide an important refuge for many marine species and even offer coastal protection. This is just one example of how upper trophic level species are extremely important for maintaining ecosystem balance.

Is There Hope for the Vaquita?

Although the population is small, Dr. Anna Hall of the Porpoise Conservation Society believes that there’s still hope for the Vaquita.  In 2018, observers spotted a group of Vaquita with at least one calf, indicating that there is still a breeding population. By eliminating illegal fishing in the area – the only real and imminent threat to the Vaquita – the population has every chance of recovery. 

If you’re wondering what you can do to help, you can symbolically adopt a Vaquita through the Porpoise Conservation Society for as little as $25 USD (https://porpoise.org/gift/adopt-a-vaquita/). These funds go towards raising awareness and supporting research, education and conservation efforts. The Porpoise Conservation Society also has a comprehensive list of small actions you can take that will have a big impact, including spreading the word and shopping for sustainable seafood at  https://porpoise.org/knowledge-base/can-save-vaquita-porpoise/.

You can help cetacean populations in our local waters as well, by reporting your sightings to the BC Cetacean Sightings Network using the WhaleReport app, and by symbolically adopting a killer whale through the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program

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