International Whaling Commission Trying to Save the Vaquita
Urgent conservation measures to try to save the world’s most threatened species of dolphin from extinction have been approved at the 66th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Portoroz, Slovenia.
The critically endangered vaquita, a tiny porpoise which is endemic to the Gulf of California, Mexico, is at risk of disappearing completely in the next few years with recent estimates suggesting it currently numbers less than 59 animals.
Also known as ‘the panda of the sea’ because of its distinctive markings, it has suffered a sharp population decline due to bycatch in gillnets used in illegal fishing for the totoaba to meet consumer demand from Asian markets, particularly China’s black market trade in the swim bladder of the totoaba fish for Traditional Chinese Medicine. This drives the gillnet fisheries which also trap vaquita.
A raft of measures aimed at halting the vaquita’s decline was included in the successful emergency resolution tabled by the US on Tuesday and approved by consensus on the floor of the meeting today. The measures include greater enforcement of a gillnet ban throughout the vaquita’s range, support for efforts to remove existing gillnets and eliminate all transit and trade in totoaba products, as well as support for vaquita monitoring programs.
Matt Collis, IFAW’s IWC Team Leader, said: “The IWC’s approval of this range of measures to increase protection for the vaquita is a positive and vital step if we are to stand a chance of preventing the extinction of this species.
“The loss of the vaquita would be a conservation tragedy, especially when considering that it is entirely preventable. IFAW is pleased to see action being taken to try to halt this critical population decline.
“After the disappointment of pro-whaling nations blocking the creation of a much-needed South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary earlier this week, it is good to see that the IWC is capable of taking practical steps to protect cetaceans, as should be expected of a 21st Century conservation body.”
The plight of the vaquita had been examined in June this year by the IWC’s Scientific Committee which recommended that the Mexican government enforce a permanent gillnet ban throughout the species’ range as the only solution for its survival. This year the Committee had received additional information about a dramatic escalation in illegal totoaba fishing which has reduced the entire vaquita population by 92% in less than 20 years.
At least three vaquita are known to have been killed by gillnets in March this year. Previous population surveys estimated that the vaquita numbered 567 in 1997 and 245 in 2008, before dropping to 59 in 2015.
IFAW has long been involved in work to protect the vaquita in its natural environment, including supporting non-invasive research such as the use of acoustic techniques to monitor its movements, habitat and population.
About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.