Mexico City, Mar 7 (EFE).- Fewer than two dozen Gulf of California harbor porpoises, the most endangered marine mammal in the world, were spotted in Mexico during the summer of 2018, Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) researcher Jorge Urban Ramirez said.
“Only 22 vaquitas were seen in the summer of 2018,” Urban Ramirez said in a Twitter post.
The Gulf of California harbor porpoise is known in Mexico as the “vaquita” (sea cow).
The researcher said the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) “knows that they need to take action or the vaquita could be lost (go extinct) in the next few months or years of the current administration,” which will be in office from 2018 to 2024.
The vaquita is threatened by illegal fishing in its habitat in the Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta Biosphere Reserve in the Gulf of California.
Urban Ramirez, who runs the UABCS’s Marine Mammal Research Program, said that in the past few days illegal fishing of the totoaba, an endangered fish species that is highly prized on the black market, where it sells for thousands of dollars per kilo, has resumed.
In recent years, Mexico banned the gillnets used to catch totoaba because they were a threat to vaquitas, which get caught in them and die.
The totoaba, which can measure up to two meters long and weigh 150 kilos (330 pounds), are in high demand in Asian countries, such as China, for their supposed aphrodisiac and healing properties.
In mid-October, Mexican scientists spotted vaquitas in the Upper Gulf of California, giving them hope that the spcies might survive, especially after discovering a healthy newborn.
After the discovery, specialists explained that although the state of the population was “critical,” with less than 30 specimens, the marine mammal had started to reproduce annually instead of every two years.
In 2017, a floating aquarium was built in the Upper Gulf of California as part of a project to save the marine mammal.
The government and its conservation partners built the floating aquarium 1.5 nautical miles offshore at a site protected from strong winds by El Machorro hill in Baja California state.
Vaquitas, protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, grow to around 1.5 meters (5 feet) and weigh up to 50 kilos (110 pounds).
The vaquita, listed as endangered since 1976, is considered the most threatened cetacean in the world.