The 88-nation International Whaling Commission on Monday issued its first extinction for the vaquita porpoise, a species native to the northern Gulf of California off the coast of Mexico.
With a maximum length of 5 feet, the vaquita porpoise is the smallest species within the animal order Cetacea, which contains whale, dolphin and porpoise species.
Fishermen in the vaquita porpoise’s habitat still illegally use gillnets, walls of netting hung vertically in the water column, in order to catch shrimp and totoaba fish. The cetaceans get caught in the nets as bycatch.
In 1997, researchers estimated that 567 vaquita porpoises existed in the wild, per the IWC. By 2018, that number had plummeted to an estimated nine.
The IWC said the species was not irretrievably doomed — so long as gillnet bans were properly enforced.
“The extinction of the vaquita is inevitable unless 100% of gillnets are substituted immediately with alternative fishing gears that protect the vaquita and the livelihoods of fishers. If this doesn’t happen now, it will be too late,” IWC scientists wrote at the conclusion of their alert.