For the first time in its history, the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) warns of the extinction of a species. In the Gulf of California in Mexico there are only about ten specimens of the California harbor porpoise, the IWC announced. Only the consistent implementation of a ban on gillnets in their natural habitat can prevent the extinction of the extremely rare marine mammals – also known as vaquitas.

“The extinction of the vaquita is inevitable unless all gillnets are replaced immediately with alternative fishing gear that protects both the vaquita and the livelihood of fishermen. If this is not done now, it will be too late,” the statement said scientific committee made up of around 200 researchers.

Animals get caught in nets

The California harbor porpoise (Phocoena sinus) is one of the smallest whales in the world. The animals are only about 1.50 meters long and weigh about 40 kilograms. They live in the Gulf of California in northwestern Mexico.

Again and again, the porpoises get caught in the gillnets of fishermen and die there. Commercial fishing with these nets has been banned in the region. Despite this, the population fell from 567 specimens in 1997 to just ten animals in 2018. Since then, the population has apparently been largely stable.

Vaquitas are particularly endangered by illegal hunting with gillnets and driftnets for totoabas. The swim bladders of these fish are traded at high prices in Hong Kong and on the Chinese black market. The collagen it contains is used in certain soups. In China, the fish is also in great demand as an alleged aphrodisiac and remedy.

The conservation organization WWF welcomed the IWC’s decision to warn of the imminent extinction of the California harbor porpoise. “Vaquitas are the most endangered marine mammals in the world. They cannot be caught, kept or bred. Their disappearance is a tragic example of how organized environmental crime is fueling species extinction,” said marine species conservation expert at WWF Germany, Heike Zidowitz. “In order to save the last vaquitas, the Mexican government must take even tougher action against illegal fishing and organized crime. Internationally, smuggling of swim bladders must be stopped.”