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Posted Fri Feb 12 2010: from Mongabay:
Expedition to save world's rarest cetacean threatened by lack of funding
Little known beyond the waters of the Gulf of California, the world's smallest cetacean (a group including whales, dolphins, and porpoises) is hanging on by a thread. The vaquita—which in Spanish means 'little cow'—has recently gained the dubious distinction of not only being the world's smallest cetacean, but the also the world's rarest. In 2006 it was announced that the Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji, was likely extinct, and conservationists fear the Critically Endangered 'little cow' is next. An expedition for this year is set to identify vaquita individuals, but even this is threatened by lack of funding. Tobias Nowlan, a member of the proposed expedition, told that the situation was dire with only 100 individual vaquitas left in the world. The vaquita lives in what Nowlan calls "the most restricted range of any marine mammal", inhabiting about 2,500 square kilometers of the Gulf of California. As far as researchers know the vaquita is threatened by one thing and one thing only: gillnets used to catch the local fish totoaba (which is also considered Critically Endangered). "The vaquita has declined dramatically as a result of bycatch in gillnets. A gillnet ban is now in place in the 'Vaquita Conservation Zone', though their use continues illegally.
[Read more stories about: unintended consequences, rights of nature, marine mammals]

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