by Allison Ledwon
From the age of four to this very day, I have loved bottle-nosed dolphins, and have always thought all cetaceans were pretty cool, whether it be blue whales or belugas. I’m not going to lie. I just learned about you last week. But after a quick round of Googling, I realized how important it was for me to share the vaquita love.
As soon as I saw the dark rings around your eyes that look like smudged eyeliner and mascara, I knew we connected. Plus you are pretty cute, likely being the smallest of all the cetaceans coming in at approximately five feet long. I mean, how can something with a name meaning “little cow” in Spanish not be cute?
Although I wasn’t surprised by your cuteness, I was surprised at the small amount of information people know about you. You’re really elusive, although you love the shallow coastal waters in the Gulf of California, the inlet between Baja California and Mexico. I was also surprised by how few of you exist today. You weren’t discovered until 1958, but are now critically endangered with only around 100 of you left a little under 60 years later.
Your struggle is directly connected to the struggle of a fellow marine animal: the totoaba, a species of fish that also inhabits the gulf. Illegal fisheries attempt to catch these fish in order to sell their swim bladders, the organ that keeps them buoyant in the water, as a Chinese delicacy overseas. You accidentally get stuck in the nets, and thus can’t surface to breathe.
As I am writing this, I’m facing mixed emotions. I’m happy that I just learned about you, but I’m sad that you might be completely gone within a few years. It doesn’t have to be that way though, right? Although we probably aren’t directly supporting this fishing industry, we can help you by supporting efforts to support research and protection. It’s not over until it’s over, and for your sake, I hope that’s a long way off.
Your New Friend