1st Vaquita Sighting In 2019; As Many As 6 Spotted

By Kendal Blust
Published: Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - 4:14pm
Updated: Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - 4:15pm

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vaquita marina
Barbara Taylor/Conanp/Sea Shepherd/Museo de la Ballena
One of six vaquita marina porpoises sighted by scientists and conservationists in Mexico's Sea of Cortez in late August and early September 2019.

The vaquita marina is the world’s smallest and most endangered marine mammal, with as few as 10 remaining in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. So leading scientists from Mexico and the United States, including with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), were excited to see three pairs of the little porpoises between Aug. 19 and Sept. 3.

“It’s pretty much the best reward we could ever ask for,” said Eva Hidalgo, science coordinator with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which patrols the vaquita’s habitat for illegal nets and accompanied scientists on the vaquita sighting expedition.

Hidalgo said scientists use acoustic monitoring to estimate the number of vaquitas but getting a glimpse of them can help determine their age, size and health.

It’s also a reminder to the world that vaquitas are still out there.

“It’s still surviving against all odds,” she said.

She said that reinforces the need to protect remaining vaquitas from illegal fishing nets used to catch a large, endangered fish called the totoaba that’s valuable on the black market for its swim bladder, or buche. But the nets used to catch the totoaba also trap and drown vaquitas.

This March, Sea Shepherd found a dead vaquita in a totoaba fishing net crew members pulled from the vaquita’s habitat in the Sea of Cortez.

“The first vaquita I saw was a dead one,” Hidalgo said. “So have the chance now alive, it just gives me hope and it just gives me a sense of responsibility.”

Scientists saw three pairs of vaquita during the expedition, and they believe they were six different individuals, Hidalgo said.

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