Vaquitas are adorably tiny porpoises and there are only about 10 remaining

The vaquita ("little sea cow"), the world's smallest cetacean found only in Mexico's Gulf of California, has seen its numbers plummet from around 600 in the late 1990s to 10-13 vaquitas today. The porpoises, which measure between 4 to 5 feet as adults, frequently get entangled and drown in the gillnets used by poachers to illegally catch totoaba fish, whose swim bladders fetch high prices in China.

However, by analyzing the genomes of 20 vaquitas that lived between 1985 and 2017, an international research team found the remaining marine mammals may still have enough genetic diversity to recover, reports Upworthy.

"Interestingly, we found the vaquita is not doomed by genetic factors, like harmful mutations, that tend to affect many other species whose gene pool has diminished to a similar point," said researcher Chris Kyriazis. This means they could potentially bounce back without major risks from inbreeding.

According to a 2023 article in Vital Signs, marine biologists reported seeing a vaquita calf swimming next to its mother in the Vaquita Marine Refuge. This suggests that the small remaining population is still reproducing.

The findings provide hope for saving this delightful creature. But for the vaquita to have any chance, experts say Mexico must finally crack down on totoaba poaching and gillnet use. "Outlawed fishing remains their biggest threat," Kyriazis said. Time is quickly running out. "Even if they kill all the vaquitas, we owe it to them to reveal the whole story, the truth," said Andrea Crosta of the wildlife trafficking watchdog group Earth League International, "and we want to bring those guilty to justice."