With vaquita numbers now down to <20, rampant illegal gillnetting still going on, continued demand for totoaba swim bladders in China, and VaquitaCPR live-capture operations cancelled, we must face the reality that this species may go extinct in the next couple of years. ¡VIVA Vaquita! and our partners are trying desperately to prevent this, but despite our best efforts, we have to accept that extinction is possible. Several people have asked us recently what we will do with ¡VIVA Vaquita! if that happens. Will the organization also disappear? Or will it continue in some other form?
When we started the organization back in 2009, we felt very optimistic that the vaquita could be saved, and we envisioned continuing ¡VIVA Vaquita! until the species was no longer in any danger. Now, in 2018, things look very different, and we must face the new, harsh reality. Our plan, should the vaquita go extinct, will be to continue the organization, and to refocus on a new set of goals:
1) Telling the Story - To serve as a repository and source of information about the history of the vaquita and its interactions with humans,
2) Continuing the Fight Against Extinction - To promote the conservation of other species of cetaceans that are close to extinction (e.g., Indus and Ganges River dolphins, North Pacific and North Atlantic right whales, and Atlantic humpback dolphins) through education and public awareness, and
3) Learning from Our Mistakes - To remind people of what we learned from the vaquita and how such tragedies can be avoided in the future.
For now, we continue to work with our sole focus being preventing the extinction of the vaquita. But, we want to make sure that, if the vaquita does disappear, people will not forget about the Gulf of California’s little porpoise, and that there will be some good to come from it. History has a tendency to repeat itself. We may not be able to save the vaquita (just as we were not able to save the baiji, also known as the Yangtze River dolphin), but the legacy of the vaquita should not be forgotten, and we must make sure that this does not happen again in our lifetimes.
Photos taken under permit (Oficio No. DR/488/08 from the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturale Protegidas (CONANP/Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), within a natural protected area subject to special management and decreed as such by the Mexican Government. This work was made possible thanks to the collaboration and support of the Coordinador de Investigación y Conservación de Mamíferos Marinos at the Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE).