July 22, 2007: Extinct In Two Years?Recently a Chinese dolphin species, the baiji or Yangtze River Dolphin, was declared "functionally extinct" – that is, scientists can't prove they're all dead, but they couldn't find a single one. It was wiped out by habitat destruction, accidental entanglement in nets, and deliberate illegal fishing. A North American porpoise is about to follow it.
The vaquita is the world's smallest porpoise. It is found only in the northern Gulf of California. Estimates of the surviving population range from 100 to 300. The vaquita, or Gulf of California Porpoise, is not a deliberate target of fisherman, but several dozen are killed every year by entanglement in fishing nets. The Mexican government, which controls its waters, has issued regulations prohibiting gill net use, but does little to enforce them. As a result, fishing, and destruction of porpoises, continues. Researchers extrapolating from reported vaquita deaths estimated that 78 vaquita die each year from gill nets – more than one every week. At that rate, the species probably has about two years.
According to an article in the July-August 2007 issue of Natural History Magazine, $25 million would make it possible to eliminate all vaquita bycatch, by buying out fishermen or re-equipping them with fishing equipment that doesn't kill dolphins. U.S. and Mexican economists and marine researchers are working on such a program, but they don't have the funding to implement it. See www.vaquita.org for more about their group - or to contribute.
The authors of the Natural History article point out that $25 million would be a drop in the bucket to a corporate sponsor. Is there a corporation out there willing to direct a donation toward actually saving a species? Or to redirect part of their ad budget toward doing some good that would be worth advertising?
There's also a vaquita article at the Cetacean Society Incorporated website. As it points out: for the species to survive, one thing has to happen. The deadly nets, already illegal, have to come out of the water now. That would require the government of Mexico to enforce its regulations. As I write this, I do not know what the most effective way might be for citizens of Mexico to address this issue with their government, or for citizens of other countries to address this issue in a way that will reach the government of Mexico.
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