Just 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain

Greenpeace is campaigning to help Mexico's vaquita porpoise survive

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The Independent Online

One of the world’s “cutest” sea mammals is at risk of extinction unless a ruling is passed today to protect the vaquita porpoise, Greenpeace says.

Mexico has one last chance to save the creature – a small, shy porpoise, described by one scientist as looking like “they’re wearing lipstick and mascara”. It is only found in a 4,000sq km region of the Gulf of Mexico. Its population has dived to just 97 over the years, mostly on the back of illegal fishing.

“This is the last chance to save the vaquita, it’s ‘make or break’ time and every single day counts,” said Greenpeace’s cetaceans campaigner, Richard Page. Only by banning all types of fishing across the whole vaquita habitat and rigorously policing the ban does the mammal have a chance of surviving, Mr Page said.

President Pena Nieto is thought to be considering such a ban, although he may opt for weaker measures.

The marine mammals, whose name means “little cow” in Spanish, are accidentally drowning in huge numbers after being caught in the gill nets, many of which are being used to illegally catch totoaba fish. The swim bladders of these critically endangered fish are so highly prized as a health food and medicine in China that they can fetch thousands of dollars apiece.

 

The vaquita population, which numbered in the low thousands in the 1960s, had fallen to 700 in 1993 and has been diving ever since.

The Mexican government created a refuge for them in 2005, banning all commercial fishing in the zone and offering compensation for fishermen. But the refuge zone is far too small and is being inadequately policed, Greenpeace says, and the rate of the decline has accelerated since it was introduced as the totoaba has soared in popularity.

Their numbers are now declining at a rate of nearly a fifth a year since 2011, with experts fearing they could disappear altogether within three years unless strong action  is taken.

“The vaquita is possibly one of the cutest sea mammals around, with dark eyes giving it a passable panda look. And it’s likely to become extinct in just a few years,” said Greenpeace oceans campaigner Willie Mackenzie, who has set up a petition to persuade the Mexican President to  take action.

“The good news is that we can do something about this – after all, we know exactly where it lives and what is killing it. Send an urgent message and tell President Nieto to act now before it’s too late,” he said, directing people to the organisation’s website.

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