The most endangered marine mammal in the world, can still be saved

The most endangered marine mammal in the world, can still be saved

The world's most endangered marine mammal still has a chance to survive even though there are only about 10 of them in nature, according to a genetic study.

The Porpoise vaquita is on the verge of extinction but scientists say DNA tests suggest this mammalian population may still be genetically viable.

This type of mammal lives only in the Gulf of Mexico, California.

However, its survival is threatened because it is caught using large nets known as gillnets or gill nets.

"Our study clearly shows that vaquita have a very good chance of preventing extinction if we can protect them by removing gill nets from their habitat," said study researcher Dr Jacqueline Robinson of the University of California, San Francisco.

He said there was no reason to conclude that the vaquita would soon become extinct because the population was so small.

"It all depends on our choices and our actions to give the vaquita, the chance to live," he added.

Some have given up hope of defending the vaquita, arguing that while this species can be protected from the threat of fishing nets, the impact of their survival on breeding alone is very difficult.

But the study, published in Science, suggests the vaquita could bounce back from the brink of extinction if their habitat is properly protected.

"They have a high chance of surviving for the next 50 years, given full protection," said Dr Robinson.

The researchers analyzed DNA from vaquitas caught between 1985-2017, which are very closely related to the species' current population. Researchers developed a computer model to predict for the vaquita population to change in the next 50 years based on their genetic findings.

This species has been recorded to be very rare for quite a long time. The genetic variation of this mammal is also low so the risk of breeding among existing mammals is also low. The researchers believe the study also serves as a lesson for sustaining other endangered species, such as those living on islands or in hard-to-reach places.

But saving the vaquita isn't easy because of tensions between conservationists and local communities, as well as diplomatic tensions over the Mexican government's implementation of a fishing ban.

Efforts to prohibit the use of gill nets are opposed by the fishing community. The illegal trade in a rare fish called totoaba has also fueled the increasing number of vaquita and other marine species entangled in giant nets.

Totoaba was one of the most consumed seafood before the Mexican government declared it an endangered animal.

Fish fins, the organ that makes these fish float, are highly sought after in China, as a potent ingredient in medicine, although they have not been scientifically proven.