Science for All newsletter

Science for All | What is the vaquita porpoise?

This article forms a part of the Science for All newsletter that takes the jargon out of science and puts the fun in! Subscribe now!

The vaquita porpoise is the world's smallest marine mammal and is believed to be on the brink of extinction, with 10 or fewer still living in Mexico's Gulf of California, their sole habitat. The biggest threat to the species is not habitat loss or genetic factors but illegal "gillnet" fishing.

The porpoises, which range from 4 to 5 feet in length, often become entangled and die in the large mesh gillnets used by poachers hunting the totoaba, an endangered fish highly valued in some countries for its perceived medicinal properties. While Mexico has outlawed totoaba fishing and made the use of these nets in the vaquitas' habitat illegal, many say the bans are not always enforced.

A team of researchers analysed the genomes of 20 vaquitas that lived between 1985 and 2017 and conducted computational simulations to predict the species' extinction risk over the next 50 years. They concluded that if gillnet fishing were to end immediately, the vaquita had a very high chance of recovery, even with inbreeding. Often species with few members tend to be susceptible to genetic diseases from inbreeding.

But because the vaquitas have always been a small population in a very small habitat in the northern tip of the gulf, their genetic make-up is unlikely to be threatening.

Of 12 marine mammal species analysed -- including vaquitas -- the porpoises had the fewest number of potentially harmful mutations.

(If this newsletter was forwarded to you, you can subscribe to get it directly here.)

From the Science Pages

Omicron: severe in virus-naive, unvaccinated people

Surface tension aids left-right symmetry

Will BA.4, BA.5 Omicron lineages cause the next wave?

Is La Nina a fair weather friend of our country?

Question Corner

 Can hearing loss due to aging be reversed? Read the answer here. 

Flora & Fauna

Coral reefs provide stunning images of a world under assault

Future looms dark for 48% of bird species

Explained | What is the monkeypox virus and how is it transmitted? 

259 pigs died this year in Meghalaya due to African Swine Fever

The Hindu’s Science for All newsletters are carefully curated to help you understand everyday events as well as the wonders of the universe. Subscribe here! 


Our code of editorial values

  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.

Printable version | May 12, 2022 1:35:39 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/what-is-the-vaquita-porpoise/article65403679.ece