Published Jul 9, 2017 at 5:46 PM | Updated at 10:22 AM PDT on Jul 10, 2017
With fewer than 30 left in the world, the vaquita — the world's rarest marine mammal — could be the latest species to become extinct, according to a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Found only in the seawaters of the upper Gulf of California, the vaquita, also known as Phocoena sinus, is the world's smallest cetacean, a pint-sized porpoise whose numbers have declined by 90 percent over the last five years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the dark-eyed sea creature as critically endangered since 1996.
Vaquitas are distinguished by their cartoonish facial features that resemble lipstick and mascara. They have dark gray backs, white undersides and a dorsal fin that is unusually large for an animal of their size. To communicate with one another, they use high-pitched sounds. Vaquita means "little cow" in Spanish.
To help stabilize the vaquita population, the Mexican government announced a plan to enclose the remaining vaquitas in pens for protection and possible breeding.
But the World Wildlife Fund argued in a statement that "the only way to save the vaquita from extinction is for the Mexican government to immediately and indefinitely ban all fisheries within its habitat."
The WWF indicated that Chinese demand for a fish known as the totoaba, which inhabits the same waters as the vaquita, has decimated the porpoise population.
In 2016, the international committee found 31 illegal totoaba fishing nets were pulled from the Gulf of California.
International Save the Vaquita Day is held on the first Saturday after the Fourth of July. Events around the world -- even in various locations around SoCal -- will raise awareness of the plight of the vaquitas.
Here’s a glimpse of the vaquitas that may soon go extinct: