The World's Smallest Dolphin Has Become A Meme

7/29/18

Funny, right?

Not really.

You may have seen these - or variants of these - photos floating around on different social media sites:

Vaquita 1.jpg
Vaquita 2.jpg

The posters and reposters all have good intentions - the best intentions. They want to help a dwindling species bound back and live through, well, us. But, as with all issues, there are definite problems with getting your environmental/global warming news from social media:

1. You can't be sure what you're even looking at once you've done your own research. Human memories are, on average, easily manipulated. Even if you're confident in your knowledge of an animal, any mistake you make in typing up your little earth activist post is going to get passed on many times over, likely with no corrections. And if you make no mistakes? Scientific names are different than common names, if you use common names of animals to describe them, you might be confusing people and turning them away from your cause. Make sure what you're writing about an animal is fact-checked and universally clear. If humanity is going to keep getting their "news" through social media, we have to make sure what we see from now on is easily verifiable, and true. Otherwise, the animal could end up in even worse trouble. The more incorrect information is posted over time, the more people memorize it. Which leads me to our next point here:

2. Information passed through the internet gets old real fast. I don't mean it's over and done with, I mean dated information in science is dangerous for activism and time-sensitive issues. Science is constantly updating, rules are constantly changing, and numbers keep shrinking (and growing). See how those numbers changed from the first to second picture? If you want to keep track of an animal like the vaquita, check every week at least, on your own terms. Don't let the information get old.

3. "Yay, I've posted (or reposted) a vaquita post. This means I've done my part! I don't have to do anything else now." Does this thought process sound familiar to you? Is it your view, or a friend's? Well, I got news for you, buddy. You have not "done your part" just yet. Awareness is great, but it's the first step. Every step after is "do something about it." Don't have time or money? Find out efficient ways to save the world. Don't even have time for that? That's why we're here.

The Vaquita

FACT FILE

Scientific Name: Phocoena sinus

Habitat: The Northern end of the Gulf of California. Their range is not huge, which is why their habitat is so precious - it is the only place they have been known to live. Destroy that, you ruin them. The Mexican government has been doing a fine and dandy job protecting the vaquita. In 1993, they created Upper Gulf of California Biosphere Reserve to protect it, and more recently, "an international trade court judge ordered the Trump administration Thursday to ban all seafood harvested with gill nets in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California — a bold move with significant political and economic consequences." Click here and here to read through my sources.   

Diet: Vaquita eat other marine animals, mostly fish, such as bronze-striped grunts, and dumb squid that wander by.

Threats: You. Kidding. But seriously. Vaquitas get trapped and die in gillnet traps meant for sharks and rays (who don't deserve to die either), as well as in other, illegal, gillnet sets meant for another endangered animal, called the totoaba (wtf you guys???). And shrimp trawlers. In other words, it sounds a lot like the usual - things getting killed by things meant for other things. Also, climate change, because reminder, they only have one habitat

Population: The IUCN Red List says it cold and brutal, but directly: "There have been three complete surveys for Vaquitas, resulting in abundance estimates as follows: in 1997 abundance was estimated to be 567 (95% CI, 177-1,073; Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 1999); in 2008 abundance was estimated to be 245 animals (95% CI, 68-884; Gerrodette et al. 2011); and in 2015 abundance was estimated to be 59 (95% CRI 22-145; Taylor et al. 2016). These three abundance estimates revealed a catastrophic population decline has been occurring." Boom. There you have it. There are estimated to be less than fifty vaquitas out there. The number may even be twelve, as the good-intention posters and reposters think. Population science isn't exact (most of the time), but at least I told you what is known.

People Who Know More Than We Do For Vaquita-Related Purposes: The IUCN, the Defenders Of Wildlife, the WWF, the Marine Mammal Center, and of course, vaquitacpr.org.        

People shouldn't become *just* hashtags. Animals shouldn't become *just* hashtags.

Do what you can. 

Save the cuteness that is the vaquita.

- ZMKF