Interview With the Vaquita.
1) Your name? My name is Phococena Sinus, or Vaquita for short. In English, my name means small cow. People also call me cochito, or desert porpoise—yes, I am a proud member of the porpoise family.
2) Where are you from? I live in the lagoons of the upper Gulf of California—my whole family lives here, and only here. It’s our home. I prefer shallow water, less than 30 meters deep, so that my dorsal fins can soak in the sunshine while I swim. We like to turn it up a bit—the crazier the water, the better. We thrive in turbid waters, abundant with nutrients.
3) What’s your favorite food? When it comes to food, I don’t discriminate; I’m not picky. I’ll eat any kind of fish or squid I encounter in the shallow waters that I roam—I choose between 17 different fish/squid options daily.
4) Do you have brothers and sisters? Over the last three years, over half of my brothers and sisters have passed away. There are less than 100 of us now, including Mom and Dad.
5) What happened? Our sea, the Sea of Cortes, has been swarmed with illegal fisherman. Not only my family, but families of sea turtles, totoabas, sardines, tuna, and cabrilla are dying. I’ve heard stories of invisible nets—we never know when one will strike. My friend was swimming peacefully one day, and found herself suddenly entangled—she was caught and we never saw her again.
6) What else has contributed to your depopulation? To be honest, because of our small population, there are less ‘fish in the sea’—aka, I’m not really attracted to anyone right now, and neither are my friends. We don’t have many options for mates, and I’m not going to settle for just anyone. Because of this ‘inbreeding depression’, the overall fitness of our species is declining as well. We seem to be stuck in this spiral of depopulation.
7) Why is this happening to you? I have no idea. I don’t know the surface world very well. My family and I avoid boats and stay out of the way as much as possible; every once in awhile, we rise to the surface to breathe, but then retreat quickly underwater. We don’t disturb the surface home, so I don’t understand why these nets must intrude on our home.
8) Who would be affected by your extinction? The sharks would be slightly disappointed; we makeup a small percentage of their diet. There will definitely be an abundance of benthic fishes, squid, and crustaceans. Overall, we prey and are preyed upon—therefore, we are a link in the ecosystem. I believe we will be missed. Without my family controlling fish populations, and sacrificing themselves to feed sharks.. Things could go wacky.
9) How can we (humans) help? Primarily, the gillnets have to go. They are not only dangerous for us, but for all underwater species. The majority of them are used for illegal purposes anyways. I’ve seen some flags and banners from underwater; for example, with the name CIRVA (Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita)—they helped take away the nets. I’ve seen others like CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and Greenpeace. They’ve helped us a lot, and whatever you can do to help them, would help us.