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Vaquita Is The Rarest Marine Mammal On Earth

The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is a species of porpoise endemic to the northern part of the Gulf of California that is on the brink of extinction.
As of March 2018 only about 12 individuals remain. They are smallest and most endangered species of the infraorder Cetacea and are evolutionarily distinct animal and have no close relatives.
The word vaquita is Spanish for “little cow”. Other names include cochito (Spanish for “little pig”), desert porpoise, vaquita porpoise, Gulf of California harbor porpoise, Gulf of California porpoise, and gulf porpoise.
Since the Baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) is thought to have gone extinct in 2006, the vaquita has taken on the title of the most endangered cetacean in the world.
It has been listed as critically endangered since 1996. The population was estimated at 600 in 1997, below 100 in 2014, approximately 60 in 2015, around 30 in November 2016, and only 12 in March 2018, leading to the conclusion that the species will soon be extinct unless drastic action is taken.
On average, females mature to a length of 140.6 cm (55.4 in), compared to 134.9 cm (53.1 in) for males. They are the only species belonging to the porpoise family that live in warm waters.
Vaquitas are non-selective predators. They tend to forage near lagoons and are estimated to live about 20 years in ideal conditions. They mature sexually at 1.3 m long, as early as 3 years old, but more likely at 6.
The population decrease is largely attributed to bycatch from the illegal gillnet fishery for the totoaba, a similarly sized endemic drum that is also critically endangered.
The population decline has occurred despite an investment of tens of millions of dollars by the Mexican government in efforts to eliminate the bycatch.
A protective housing/captive breeding program, unprecedented for a marine mammal, has been developed and is undergoing feasibility testing, being now viewed as necessary to rescue the species.
The ability of the vaquita to survive and reproduce while confined to a sanctuary is uncertain. Since these measures failed to halt the decline, by February 2017 it was judged that a program placing a portion of the remaining population in protective captivity was needed to save the species.
This program, called VaquitaCPR (Vaquita Conservation, Protection, and Recovery), began capturing vaquitas from the Gulf in autumn of 2017. However, the initial two attempts resulted in the death of one vaquita.
On 6 November 2017, Mexico’s environmental minister announced that a female vaquita had been successfully captured and brought to an enclosure, but had died several hours later, evidently due to stress. The breeding program was closed soon after.
If the species does go extinct, it will likely be the first cetacean to do so since the Baiji.
The vaquita is considered the most endangered of 129 extant marine mammal species. It has been classified as one of the top 100 evolutionary distinct and globally endangered (EDGE) mammals in the world.

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Post Series: Gulf of California
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