There are only 10 vaquitas left on the planet; how to save them?


Image: Paula Olson/NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

These are tough times for vaquitas. Also known as pacific porpoises, these animals are on the brink of extinction. Same. Only 10 copies exist on the entire planet.

The fault, of course, lies with humans. Vaquitas, which inhabit the Gulf of California, Mexico, are constantly caught in gillnets, used to catch shrimp and totoaba fish. By not being able to return to the surface, the marine mammal ends up drowning.

The decrease in population brings another fear to scientists: the end of the species caused by inbreeding. This is the mating system in which related members end up producing offspring, which worries biologists due to the possibility of new animals being born with harmful genetic mutations.

A study published in the journal science reassures environmentalists. According to scientists from the University of Sydney and Monash University, both Australians, inbreeding poses no risk to the species.

After analyzing the genomes of 20 vaquitas that lived between 1985 and 2017, the researchers came to the conclusion that the species carries fewer harmful mutations than other marine mammals. This means that, despite the practice of inbreeding, it is more difficult for offspring to inherit negative characteristics that compromise the health of the animal.

But it’s no use focusing only on dolphin reproduction and continuing to allow the use of fishing nets. If the tool were banned overnight, the vaquita population could increase to 299 individuals by 2070. On the other hand, if net use declines by just 80%, 62% of the porpoise population could still be extinct.

About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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