MEXICO CITY – The results of a recent sighting expedition in the upper portion of Mexico’s Gulf of California have renewed hopes of conserving the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), the world’s smallest porpoise.
The coordinator of the Vaquita CPR program, Lorenzo Rojas, said at a press conference Wednesday that although the vaquita remains critically endangered (with a population of fewer than 30), the scientists’ observations indicate it is now reproducing annually as opposed to biennially.
“All the biology indicates that the vaquita is able to reproduce; based on the observations, the recovery rate could be double,” he said, noting that a female vaquita was observed last year with her calf and this year the same mother was seen with a new calf.
That observation could indicate changes in the species’ reproductive tendencies.
These results stem from a sighting expedition that scientists from different organizations carried out from Sept. 25-27 in the Upper Gulf of California.
None of the scientists at the press conference gave an estimate of the number of vaquitas in the wild, saying they are waiting for an analysis of the results (due to be made public early next year).
The vaquita is on the edge of extinction due to gillnets used to illegally catch the highly endangered totoaba fish, whose swim bladders are highly valued in China for their purported aphrodisiac and medicinal properties.
Gillnets, which inadvertently ensnare the vaquita, have been outlawed since June 2017 in the Gulf of California.