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Extinction Watch: How long for ocean’s little cow?



Scientific classification:Phocoena sinus

Among the rarest aquatic mammals in the world is theVaquita. There are between 12 and 19 in the wild and the small porpoise is on the verge of becoming extinct as it doesn’t do well in captivity.

The species was discovered in 1958! Found in the Gulf of California, this mammal faces the gravest threat of being caught and drowned from gillnetting—a fishing practice using vertical panels of netting with regularly spaced floaters that hold the line on the surface of the water.

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The vaquita is the smallest cetacean on earth and is a cousin of the largest animal in the world, the blue whale. While they feed on fish, prawns and crabs, they are most partial to squid. Vaquitas have chunky bodies, rounded heads and dark rings around their eyes and mouths, which may account for their common name (vaquita means “little cow” in Spanish).

In 2017, scientists from the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA in Spanish) tried a controversial plan: Capture vaquitas, keep them in net pens in the Gulf, and hope they would reproduce. Of the two females they caught, one had to be released almost immediately as she showed signs of distress while the other equally stressed out vaquita died a few hours later, likely due to a cardiac arrest.

The only tiny bit of hope: cell samples taken from the two captured vaquitas have been cultured and frozen to sequence the vaquita genome.

World Wildlife Fund, MentalFloss.com

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