William A. Gralnick
Maybe you are like me. Maybe you thought Porpoise was another way to mean Dolphin. If so, we’re both wrong. Porpoises are a member of the Cetacean family (Whales, Porpoises, and Dolphins.). We know the least about them of the three with only the Harbor Porpoise being accessible enough to study. One sure way to tell is that the Dolphin has a longer, streamlined body and a long snout. You can see the differences in the picture above and below. The dolphin is about six feet long and weighs 200lbs, where as the porpoise is shorter, 4-5 feet, about 100 lbs lighter, and the weight is distributed over a different body.
The Vaquiata (Little Cow in Spanish), is tiny and adorable. It has a black patch mouth, black circles around it’s eyes, and it’s body looks a bit like a fat, baby cow. The other thing to know about Vaquitas is that they are almost gone. From 1997 to now they have suffered a 900% drop in population. This is made more dramatic by the facts that they only live in one place in the world, the Sea of Cortez (Northern Gulf of California). In 1997 when that drop began there were approximately 600 of them. Now, depending on the day they are being counted and by whom, there are 60, or 30, or most recently 10. Regardless of which number is right, the reality is that the Vaquita Porpoise is the most endangered marine animal in the world. How did that happen?
The drive towards extinction usually has several components. Loss of habitat, over hunting/fishing, climate change, loss of feeding/spawning ground are all part of it. For the Vaquita, it is much simpler–gill netting. Gill netting is the common practice of laying out huge nets that can stretch for miles in length and width. They are usually dropped in a area rich in the fish the fishermen are trying to snag, and snag in huge, commercial numbers. A major problem with gill netting is that the net has no idea what it is capturing. When hauled in it can contain many things from trash to all manner of other sea life. That sea life usually dies or is killed, sort of collateral damage.
Gill netting has taken a tremendous toll on sharks. Then some scientists discovered that sharks have an aversion to the color green. Truth–no foolin’! More and more fishing captains are placing green LED lights spaced along the netting. And don’t you know, almost no more sharks. Unfortunately, having been little studied, we know no such things, or much of anything, about the little cow. Since the Vaquita lives in Mexican waters, it follows that it is Mexico’s problem. One scientist said, “If we just got rid of gill netting, we will have saved the Vaquita.” Mexico issued a two year ban on the practice to be enforced by the Mexican Navy. Two years came and went. The ban didn’t cut it. It should be 25 years or forever. Vaquitas are not roaches. They have one baby a year. You get my point.
Have no other animals and plants gone extinct? For sure. More than you’d care to know. The Vaquita would be the second porpoise to go extinct, the other in Asian waters. But that doesn’t mean all is lost. Remember what the lady said above about gill netting? We can save the Vaquita by making it like any other cause we’re into. By advocacy. Nor do you have to start creating organizations. There are several large organizations dedicated to Ocean issues. The one you are looking for, for the sake of the Vaquita, is the Porpoise Conservation Society at http://www.Porpoise.com. There you will find all the education information and advocacy tools you need to give this chubby little creature a fighting chance.
Why do it? Frankly, folks because we should–at least from my perspective
Bill reminds you ‘tis the season for summer reading. Light, funny, engaging are both, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales From Brooklyn” and “George Washington Didn’t Sleep Here.” Both are coming-of-age books, a memoir series through college. Great endorsements. Great reviews. Amazon.com.