Marine mammal expert says world’s tiniest porpoise is at peril from fishing gear
The world’s tiniest—and I would argue cutest—porpoise lives in the Gulf of California and has only been known to science since 1958. Last year, these gentle, quiet creatures declined by around 40 percent, according to the International Whaling Commission. There are fewer than 100 vaquitas left. I asked Barbara Taylor, head of the Marine Mammal Genetics Group for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association, to help me understand the reasons for this population crisis.
Barb Taylor, in her element
PI: Why does preserving the vaquita matter?
BT: Well, I’m a conservation biologist for heaven’s sake—I think preserving every species matters! We’re going through very challenging times: Humans are learning to live sustainably with other species on this planet. The last time I witnessed an extinction, which I hope never to have to see again, it was the loss of the baiji from the Yangtze River in China. That species had been here for at least 20 million years. Vaquitas have been living in this area for five million years. It’s really important we try to save these porpoises and take whatever measures necessary to make that happen.
As chair of the conservation committee for the Society of Mammalogy, I see vaquitas as tip of the iceberg—so many species will follow suit if we don’t solve this problem of small coastal cetaceans getting caught in artisanal fishing nets. They make their living in the exact environment where people make their living. This is true for many cetaceans throughout the world. Mexico can be a world leader if it manage to solve this issue.
PI: Why are vaquitas declining at such a rapid rate?
BT: There’s no way of proving the causes of decline, but it’s almost certainly gillnet fishing. Vaquitas were declining at 8 percent to 10 percent annually for many years, and that rate has greatly increased at the same time as we saw a rise in illegal fishing for totoaba.
A US customs official holds up a dried totoaba bladder. Photo: CHELCEY ADAMI PHOTO
PI: Why has there been such an increase in demand for totoaba?
BT: Adult totoaba have swim bladders valued in Chinese medicine, so it’s a lucrative—illegal—business. Totoaba started to recover after being protected on Mexico’s version of America’s Endangered Species Act, and there were reports of people accidentally catching them while fishing for other species. That’s when the illegal swim bladder trade with China resumed. The fishing now is much more intense than it was back then, and there are many more vaquitas being killed. It’s an unprecedented rate of decline among any cetacean.
PI: How can we protect vaquitas?
BT: Basically, you can’t have gillnets. They have to be banned throughout the vaquita’s entire range, not just 50 percent of it.At the end of April this year, a two-year emergency ban on gillnet fishing went into effect, which covers the entire vaquita range. The Mexican navy has been put in charge of enforcing the rule, and fishermen who are losing livelihood from this are being compensated. It’s a huge positive step. Since naval enforcement began, there have been aerial surveys and reports that a couple of arrests were made, but there hasn’t been illegal fishing activity since.
The international vaquita recovery team, Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita, has been saying for a long time that effective enforcement would make it illegal to use, possess, or even transport gillnets anywhere within the range of vaquita—including on land adjacent to where they live.
The ban went into effect at tail end of the annual fishing season. The real test will be when shrimp season starts in mid-September.
PI: Are there any steps being taken so consumers like me can play a role in helping?
BT: It’s important that consumers pay the entire environmental cost
for what they eat—that means paying a little bit more for sustainably
fished seafood. Gillnets are used everywhere because they’re very profitable.Sustainable gear is more expensive for fishermen.WWF Mexico is working with fishermen on small trawls to get a vaquita-friendly label developed. There are also ongoing talks with buyers and chefs in Southern California who are really excited about buying vaquita-safe shrimp. That is the first big step.
I thibk the reason why I find discrimination so baffling is because I feel like I have such a hard time interacting with people without being exhausted that I will hang for dear life onto any good person who doesn’t burn me out. They could be part porpoise for all I care. I go “oh Christ, FINALLY.”
People who are virulently against a race or culture or gender or sexuality must have really easy lives to afford the luxury of being such assholes and still having people who will hang out with them.
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican authorities are proposing a $37 million plan to ban gillnet fishing in most of the upper Sea of Cortez to save the critically endangered vaquita marina, the world’s smallest porpoise.
The plan would compensate fishermen for stopping the use of nets that often sweep up the tiny porpoises along with their catch.
Recent reports suggest there are fewer than 100 of the…
GOOD NEWS: Mexico approves measure to save world’s rarest dolphin
The government of Mexico has taken a decisive step to save the vaquita - a porpoise threatened by extinction - and to promote sustainable fisheries in the upper Gulf of California for the benefit of fishers and their families, says WWF-Mexico.
The new regulation establishes shrimping standards in Mexico and defines the fishing gears permitted in different zones of the country.
The new regulation, called an official norm, comes after over 38,000 people from 127 countries signed WWF’s petition to Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto requesting measures to save the vaquita and allow fishers to continue to earn a living through sustainable fishing.
“With this norm, drift gillnets - one of the nets used in artisanal shrimping operations in which vaquitas die incidentally - will be gradually substituted, during a three year period, for selective fishing gears that does not kill this porpoise, but that allow fishers to keep earning their livelihoods. The effective application of the norm requires the participation and commitment of local fishermen. The optimal use of the net requires the development of particular skills; therefore, the support of the government and other organizations through training and temporary compensation programs will be essential along the fisher´s learning curve,” said Omar Vidal, WWF-Mexico’s Director General.
“It represents a major opportunity to promote sustainable fisheries in the region and to protect this Mexican porpoise. WWF acknowledges the commitment of the Mexican government to save the vaquita from extinction”, added Vidal.
It is estimated that less than 200 vaquitas currently survive. Its main threat is incidental entanglement and drowning in drift gillnets used to catch shrimp, sharks, rays and other fish. Vaquitas also continues to die trapped in gillnets used in the illegal fishing of totoaba, a fish which is also endangered.
Some great illustrations and info-graphics from the upcoming book, Whales Dolphins and Porpoises by Professor Annalisa Berta-
[It] combines highlights from the latest scholarly studies of the nature and behaviour of the world’s whales, dolphins and porpoises, with a fully comprehensive species directory, that offers detailed profiles of each species alongside all the information needed to identify them in the wild.
Vancouver Aquarium is dealing with a decision that ruins the quality of life for their cetaceans….and this decision was not made by a veterinarian, a staff research or curator. It was made by the Vancouver Park Board, and they have nothing to do with zoological operations.
Especially on tumblr, there are so many “pro” and “anti-caps” that it makes me sick. We really love to divide ourselves into camps and get into rhetorical fights about how right our side is. Meanwhile, the animals are still suffering.
The amount of passion each “side” has is enough to make some really big changes that could positively influence the lives of wild cetaceans (and animals in general) if we could just get along for nine seconds. These decisions and changes could also come without negatively impacting the individual animals who do call a zoo or aquarium home.
Today’s Middle Flipper is about this ridiculousness, and how we can turn it around to make GOOD changes.
So I’ve always wanted to do my very own ‘Secret Santa’ but I didn’t want to do the generic bog standard one that everyone always does. Then it hit me. Why not do a special cetacean edition?
~What does it involve?~ I will provide you with the URL of a random Tumblr user. You will then message this user anonymously at least once per day. It doesn’t have to always be about cetaceans but as the ‘theme is 'cetaceans’, it might be nice to leave some nice cetacean related things like little asks about their experiences with cetaceans or what their favourite species is etc. Just try to stay fairly on topic whilst getting to know your user. On the 25th, you will finally reveal yourself and hopefully you’ll have gained a friend! In turn, a different user will be messaging you as you will be their secret santa! I hope this makes sense!
~Rules~ -No one has to be following me. -Anyone can take part but you have to have at least some interest in cetaceans of course. -If you want to be involved, please be sure to leave me an ask stating that you’d like to take part! This is very very important and will ensure that I can get around to everyone. -Be sure to leave cetacean related things in your Secret Santa’s ask box. (Fun ceta asks, cute ceta stories, a little cetacean fact- be creative) -Try to message your Secret Santa at least once per day. -This is captivity neutral. This is to celebrate Christmas and to share our love for cetaceans. Pro captivity and anti captivity people may end up with each other but BE KIND no matter what your views are. -Keep your anonymous box on so that your person can keep secret until the 25th. -Do NOT change your URL because the person who receives your URL will not be able to find you! -This will be open until the 15th of Decemeber but as soon as you receive a your URL you may begin spamming them with love. -Have fun! :D