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Dublin: 14 °C Friday 19 October, 2018

Mexico is struggling to save the world's smallest porpoise

The five-foot sea creatures are being caught as bycatch in illegal fishing nets.

The vaquita marina is five-foot and has dark rings around the eyes.
The vaquita marina is five-foot and has dark rings around the eyes.

ONLY 60 OF the world’s smallest porpoises remain and Mexican authorities are struggling to save the vaquita marina.

Mexico’s government offered fishermen $70 million (€61.8 million) over two years if they stop using gillnets, which entangle and capture the porpoises, while new fishing methods are being found.

Fishermen continue to use gillnets illegally despite President Enrique Pena Nieto imposing a two-year ban on the nets in April 2015.

vaquita trapped in net A vaquita trapped in a net. Source: Chris Johnson -

Fishermen are using the illegal gillnets to poach another endangered sea creature, the totoaba.

The totoaba fish is caught for its swim bladder which is then dried and sold on the black market in China.

WWF, the World Wildlife Fund, are calling for a full fishing ban in the vaquita’s refuge in northwestern Mexico.

range of vaquita The area where the five-foot sea creature lives. Source: Chris Johnson -

Sunshine Antonio Rodriguez Pena, president of the fishing cooperative of the port of San Felipe, said his group would lodge a complaint before the United Nations if a fishing ban were to be imposed.

“They are completely crazy,” he said.

They should just declare (the vaquita) extinct because fishermen are not killing it”.

Rodriguez said other factors are to blame, such as predators, algae or toxins.

There’s still hope…

There were 200 ‘vaquita marina’ left by 2012 and then their numbers fell to just 100 in 2014.

President Enrique Pena Nieto imposed a two-year ban on gillnets in April 2015 and increased the vaquita protection area tenfold to 13,000 square kilometres.

Pena Nieto also deployed navy reinforcements to enforce the ban.

Mexico’s director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Omar Vidal says that the measures have been “insufficient” and that fishermen camouflage the gillnets with legal ones.

Phocoena sinus 1 - Tom Jefferson The vaquita is a shy creature and photos of the animal are rare Source: © Tom Jefferson

The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) is calling for the two-year gillnet ban to become permanent.

The chairman of CIRVA, Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho said:

There’s still hope for the vaquita as other national treasures have recovered in the past, such as elephant seals, which once numbered 20 and now number more than 150,000.

shutterstock_133824920 Elephant seals fight during mating season near San Simeon, California, USA Source: Shutterstock/FiledIMAGE

- © AFP, 2016

Read: Twenty basking sharks spotted off coast of Clare

Read: Mass deaths of dolphins off Peru remains a ‘mystery’.

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