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Vaquita, the Next Species for Extinction?

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Monday, September 22, 2014/Categories: wildlife conservation, marine mammals, sustainability, environment, Archive Pick of the Week

Defined by the fishing industry,  bycatch  is any species caught unintentionally while fishing for other fish. In the 1960's it meant the snaring of dolphins by tuna fishermen but has come to mean any non-target species including sea turtles sharks, and even sea birds. Bycatch contributes to declining fisheries and overfishing of the unintentional catch species.

Bycatch could now cause the extinction of the smallest marine mammal in the world, the  vaquita  of Baja's Gulf of California. If so, this will be due in large part to criminal gangs selling a fish to China for a soup where the diminutive vaquita is the bycatch.

Gulf Porpoise,the Vaquita and range  (credit: NOAA and UCSD)

A recent  article  highlights the decline in the tiny dolphin as the result of bycatch by criminal gangs who smuggle the dried swim bladder of the totoaba fish to China. The bladder is served as soup additive because of believed medicinal properties. In less than two years, the vaquita population has been nearly cut in half with less than 100 individuals now remaining.

It's hard to know where to start: corral the remaining animals into a protective captive breeding program in the Gulf; provide fisherman new fishing nets and other gear; search and destroy the criminal network; develop aquaculture for the totoaba fish; or demand Chinese restaurants stop serving a dubious soup.

Perhaps all of the above if it isn't already too late for another animal to join the dodo on the list of already extinct species.



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