Requiem for the Vaquita Marina (Phocoena sinus)

May 21, 2018

Amid the imminent disappearing of an unique marine mammal, the environment is not being discussed in the Mexican presidential debates.


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Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Ruben Arvizu in 1993. Photo courtesy Ruben Arvizu

In June 1993, my father, Jacques Cousteau, made these commentaries to Ruben Arvizu who was our representative of the Cousteau Foundation for Latin America. An intense sadness and frustration reflected on his face: “Nothing has been done to save the vaquita, they have only used me, abusing my name and our organization. " JYC referred to the Rescue Plan for the Vaquita Marina, that graceful porpoise unique in the world and whose habitat is reduced to the waters of the Gulf of California.

In the face of adversary, our species is a remarkable adapter. When confronted with issues of urgency, we mobilize rapidly to overcome challenges. This is evident throughout history. Often, this mobilization has come in the midst of imminent war. Today, we face a different kind of war; it is a battle for a habitable planet and our right to live in a healthy environment. Climate change is already happening due to human emission of greenhouse gases. The consequences will disrupt every aspect of our lives, threatening the ability of our planet to sustain us.

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April 12, 1992

Only a year had passed since April 22, 1992, that JYC and myself, accompanied by Dr. Richard Murphy, Ruben Arvizu and several of our cameramen, were at the official precinct of the presidency of Mexico, at Los Pinos, to sign the Plan proposed by us and accepted by the government of Mexico. It was a splendid ceremony with the entire official cabinet of the then President, Carlos Salinas de Gortari. The date was very significant, Earth Day. The plan was based on many of the studies done by us for years in the Gulf of California, aka the Sea of Cortez. JYC called this beautiful body of water “the aquarium of the world”. In addition, Mexican experts familiar with these fertile waters included their scientific studies. The main idea was to avoid the extinction of that extraordinary porpoise. The media in Mexico and abroad proclaimed the benefits of the plan that sought to strengthen the lives of fishermen and inhabitants of the coastal towns by teaching them better methods of fishing by eliminating the use of certain nets, fatal to the vaquita. The plan also proposed the development of ecotourism, something that was totally new in those days. Unfortunately, and as my father said only a year later the reality was that nothing had been done or implemented.

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Now, 25 years later, during the last 4 administrations of the Mexican government, there have been supposed attempts to save the vaquita. The sad reality is they were only for simple public relations and self-promotions, to take advantage of the good intentions of international celebrities.

We are well aware of how scientists have continued to make their best efforts to solve a very complex problem: social, political and even for national security. The illegal fishing of another species is also in danger of extinction, the totoaba, a coveted fish in Asia and for which thousands of dollars are paid for each catch. The involvement of drugs cartel in totoaba´s trafficking to China has been increasing in recent years with the collusion of authorities. When capturing the totoaba, the vaquita is trapped in the nets and dies by asphyxiation. The fate of the vaquita seems to be coming to an end.

It is very hard to accept the disappearance of this intelligent and peaceful marine mammal in a body of water that should not be impossible to monitor. It is a terrible tragedy that could have been avoided. The world will really miss the vaquita.

Warm regards,

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Jean-Michel Cousteau
President, Ocean Futures Society