By Jacob Kersh
Every day, over one hundred species of plants and animals are completely wiped from the face of the earth. In some cases, these mass extinctions are entirely natural and unavoidable. However, humans are more often than not directly at fault for this staggering number of deaths. The vaquita—a small marine mammal that only inhabits the Gulf of California—is no exception to this generalization.
As reported by a team of international scientists in February 2019, there are less than 20 vaquitas left in the entire world; this number continues to dwindle in the double digits solely because of illegal human activity.
Vaquitas die from entanglement in illegal gill nets, which are purposely laid across the waters of the Gulf of California by fishing poachers on a daily basis. These poachers intend to catch another endangered species of fish called the totoaba in order to harvest their massive swim bladders. In a lucrative illegal fishing industry, these swim bladders are worth up to two-hundred thousand dollars apiece in China. Chinese citizens revere this organ for its unique medicinal purposes; according to Glenelg Junior Meredith Arterburn, “They use it make soups that make pregnancy more comfortable and to cure joint pain.” Arterburn completed a biology project on illegal fishery of the totoaba during her freshman year, and is concerned about the deaths of both the totoaba and the vaquita.
Given the extreme concern over the safety of vaquitas in their natural habitat, an organization known as the Vaquita Conservation Protection and Recovery (VaquitaCPR) recommended last year that the Mexican Government institute a carefully planned attempt to determine whether some vaquitas can be caught and held in a temporary sanctuary last year. However, the species has been unable to adapt to any form of human care, and multiple rescue attempts have actually resulted in the death of the enclosed vaquita.
Since this animal will likely go extinct by the end of 2019, VaquitaCPR asked and successfully received a grant from the Mexican government to develop and use an underwater acoustic monitoring system. This system is used to detect vaquitas on a daily basis, and provide information for a visual search team. Glenelg Senior Hassan Malik agrees with the decision to utilize it. “I think it’s important for us to know where every vaquita in existence is all the time. If we don’t keep monitoring them, they’re going to end up getting trapped in gillnets again and again,” Malik says. Additionally, a representative from VaquitaCPR informed the public that this technology has proven very successful in recent weeks.
Unfortunately, illegal poachers continue to fight against organizations protecting the vaquita. Less than one month ago, another vaquita activist organization known as The Sea Shepherd posted a video on Twitter of their vessel being attacked by over a dozen small fishing boats. The crew, who dedicate their time to documenting visual sightings of the vaquita every day, said that fisherman threw lead weights, dead fish, and even Tabasco sauce at them throughout the day. One larger boat even tried to douse them in gasoline. Glenelg Senior Ethan Chappell believes that this behavior “should not be tolerated by anyone,” and questions why the Mexican government “hasn’t really buckled down on the illegal poachers other than giving a few activist organizations a little bit of money.” Attacks such as these will surely continue to occur if more money is not dedicated to the saving of this critically endangered species.
The Glenelg community is deeply troubled by the potential loss of the vaquita species that might tragically occur in the next few months. For instance, Glenelg Junior Cole Miller says, “Humans just one of millions of species on earth. If we know another species is dying, it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to save it. I feel like the Mexican Government doesn’t care enough.” Vaquita activist organizations would agree with Miller’s statement.
The vaquita is on the frontline of extinction, and without urgent intervention, the species will soon exist no longer. But although hope is diminishing, it still is not completely lost. Various organizations continue to monitor the Gulf of California twenty-four hours a day, and activists state that they will continue their efforts until the very last vaquita perishes. However, they are asking for everyone to join the fight. Will you?
You can donate to save the vaquita here: https://goo.gl/12PCxS