In a last ditch attempt to keep the world’s tiniest porpoises from disappearing from the face of the earth, the Mexican government has announced a plan to capture as many vaquita porpoises as they can and put them in captivity until the population recovers. While it is regrettable that these creatures will have to live out the rest of their lives in a cage – it has become the only tenable option to save the species.

In 2015, the total population of the vaquita porpoise was put at 60, but that number is estimated to have decreased over the course of the year. Scientists estimate that there are eight living, breeding, female vaquita porpoises left in the world. It would be a tragedy to lose these incredible animals. But their sad situation begs the question: How did we let this happen?

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Firstly, overfishing.

These porpoises have become collateral damage in the wildly irresponsible fishing techniques that are common practice in the industry. Using gill nets and bottom trawling, fisheries indiscriminately trap everything in their path – including the vaquita porpoise. These practices decimate the flora and fauna of the marine ecosystem. Overfishing wrecks havoc on deep sea coral and threatens the dwindling population of apex predators in the oceans. Without predators like sharks, whales, and porpoises, our ocean ecosystem will collapse – and we need the oceans intact to survive.

Illegal wildlife traffickers pose an added threat to the vaquita porpoises. The Totoaba is a fish that shares its habitat with the vaquita porpoise. TheTotoaba bladder can be turned into a narcotic similar to cocaine – so needless to say, there is a large demand for these fish. The nets used to fish the Totoaba frequently pick up vaquitas as well, much to the detriment to the latter. The World Wildlife Fund and Sea Shepherd recently paired up with the Mexican government in a campaign to protect the vaquita from this threat – over the course of their review of vaquita habitat, they removed 28 ‘ghost’Totoaba nets in the area – but there are many nets still undiscovered.

We Need to Do Better

Vaquita porpoises have never been successfully kept or bred in captivity, so the future for this species is highly uncertain. There is a good chance that this will end in tragedy, but it should remind us that we need to do better as humans. We need to be more conscious of the environmental costs that come with being a consumer. As David Attenborough said, “It surely is our responsibility to create a planet that provides a home, not just for us but for all life on earth.” We can take action by sharing this information, by being conscious consumers, and by boycotting fisheries that practice unsustainable techniques. If we all come together, the next time we write a story about our oceans, it will have a happy ending.

We can take action by sharing this information, never purchasing items obtained through the illegal wildlife trade, and reducing our consumption of fish and seafood. If we all come together, the next time we write a story about our oceans, it will have a happy ending.

Image source: Phys.Org