Baja, Mexico, a heavenly sliver of land stocked with Instagram-worthy images. From its aquamarine waters and ancient coral reefs to the equally ancient culture, its plain to see why Baja is so popular. However, this land is much more than a place to catch a good wave or enjoy a luxurious resort. Baja is home to a unique species that is in need of some help.
What is a Vaquita?
In these waters lives a small creature being mostly gray with a smear of white on its underside and a black patch around its eye. It is arguably one of the cutest creatures known to man. Measuring to an average of five feet and weighing a mere 100 pounds is the Vaquita (/vəˈkiːtə/), one of the smallest porpoises in the ocean only found in the California Gulf. The creature was discovered in 1958 (WWF). However, for millions of years porpoises such as the Vaquita have dominated the oceans. They are so rare fisherman believe their existence is a myth (Dibble). The World Wildlife Fund says Vaquitas are shy and try to avoid boats which is likely the reason some think they do not exist. Video and photography of the porpoise are rare. This is in part due to their shy nature as well as their population. Today, Vaquitas are vanishing. According to VIVA Vaquita, there are only twenty-three remaining.
Why are the Vaquitas endangered?
Gillnets are the major culprit to the Vaquita’s decreasing numbers. These nets are designed to cling to a fish’s gills to prevent escape once in the net, but they are by no means meant for Vaquitas. They are meant for the totoaba fish. There is high demand for their swim bladders which run for $10,000 per kilogram (Nordland). It is by pure accident that the porpoises become entangled in the nets. According to the NOAA, scientists urged the removal and ban of gillnets. In 2015, Mexico responded with a two-year emergency ban on gillnets and even recruited the help of the Navy to monitor the area and remove remaining nets which finally slowed the population decline.
How can we help?
There are several ways to help marine life like the Vaquita. A single person’s efforts can make a considerable change. Even the most seemingly small action can influence our oceans and marine life.
- Education - The best way to help marine life is to become familiar with the topic and spread awareness. Most people don’t even realize the creatures like the Vaquita or other porpoises exist. The more people that know about the struggles of marine life the better!
- Donate – Many organizations are collecting funds to help aid conservation. Save the Vaquita is just one of many that are gathering donations to supply fishermen with safer nets, ones that porpoises can easily get out of (Save the Vaquita: Mexico's desert porpoise). But there are countless other organizations that require donations to help marine life too.
Adopt (symbolically of course) – Don’t worry you won’t have to make room in the swimming pool. This adoption is a metaphorical one. You receive a certificate saying you
“adopted” a creature. It is a one-time fee that is inexpensive. Porpoise.org offers the option as well as WWF who not only offers adoptions for marine life but land creatures too.
- Clean - 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year (Sifferlin). Do some beach cleanup with a few friends! This keeps marine life from ingesting anything harmful which can lead to illness. You can also consider ditching plastic and paper bags and instead bring your own bags from home when shopping. Plastic bags decompose in 20 years and plastic bottles take up to 450 years (Cho). Cutting as much plastic from your life makes a big impact on the oceans.
- Participate in World Oceans Month! – June is dedicated to our oceans. During this month, it is important to spread awareness of our oceans and conservation efforts. Post on your social media, talk about how much you love our ocean and follow groups who promote ocean care. After June comes Save the Vaquita Day on July 8th. A day when we can spread awareness of this creature as well as others.
Simple efforts can make a big impact on marine life. We share this planet with many other creatures and it is wise to be good to them. Our ocean, beaches, and marine life are unique and with our efforts, we can help them thrive.
- Heather Weller, Plea for the Sea
Bodeo-Lomicky, Adian, Whittenbury, Willam. “Why the Extinction of the Vaquita Should Matter to All of UsA Teenager's Perspective.” Journal of Marine Animals and Their Ecology 9 April 2015. Web. 12 June 2017.
Cho, Renee. “Our Oceans: A plastic Soup.” State of the Planet. 26 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 June 2017.
Dibble, Sandra. “Mexico’s vaquita on brink of extinction.” The San Diego Union Tribune. 10 Aug. 2014. Web. 13 June 2017.
Nordland, Rod. “Only Captivity Will Save the Vaquita, Experts Say.” The New York Times. 27 April 2017. Web. 12 June 2017.