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This dead right whale calf had injuries consistent with a vessel strike, including fresh propeller cuts on its back and head, broken ribs, and bruising. Photo: FWC/Tucker Joenz, NOAA Fisheries permit #18786

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Scientific Committee gives first ever official species extinction warning

Vaquita - Thomas Jefferson
Photo: Thomas Jefferson

We have welcomed the urgent call by experts to protect the vaquita porpoise following the first-ever official warning of the imminent extinction of a species by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC is the global body that regulates whale hunting, and conservation of whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

Its Scientific Committee includes world-leading experts who provide advice on the Commission's policy-making.

The vaquita has long been threatened by fishing nets that have brought these little porpoises to the brink of extinction. There are only around 10 left and unless urgent action is taken, they will soon be gone forever.

Found only in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California, the population has declined by more than 75% in the past few years alone. The single biggest threat to this species is accidental entanglement in illegal fisheries targeting yet another endangered species, a fish known as the totoaba. Smuggled into China, dried totoaba swim bladders, worth more than $10,000 each, are used to make maw, a soup thought to boost fertility.

Although the dramatic situation of the vaquita has been discussed in international forums for years, the necessary steps to protect them have not yet been taken. As a result, the IWC Scientific Committee has now concluded that a change of course is urgently needed and has issued an 'Extinction alert' − a scientific statement to prompt action needed now to save them.

'The decline of the vaquita has continued despite a very clear understanding of both, the cause (bycatch in gillnets) and the solution (replacement of gillnets)' the IWC states.  

'We welcome this statement from the IWC's Scientific Committee, confirming what we have known for a long time − that the tiny vaquita is in grave danger and we need to act more quickly in the future. We know the issues that have driven them to the brink of extinction. The statement affirms that we urgently need to develop, implement, and enforce solutions to protect more whales and dolphins from suffering the same fate', says Ed Goodall, WDC’s head of intergovernmental engagement.

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