I have always wondered how mammals, our live-bearing creatures with recently-discovered impressive brains, got back into the sea.
Mammals, from all accounts, including Darwinians, were descendants of sea creatures who, through fin and gill transformations, evolved into something resembling walking and breathing creatures that then stepped up onto the land and preferred berries and heron eggs to seaweed. Made sense to me.
So my question, is why did some of these mammals return to the sea? I guessed that a million years ago, they actually became even smarter and saw the rise of land mammals, including man-like creatures and Japanese and Chinese fish mongers, who would became the human-equivalent of meteor attacks. So they puffed up their lung-like organs and did cannonballs back into the oceans. Extinctions in the sea are rare. Exceptions are of course mermaids, who once existed until they got tired of sailor abuse, and turned themselves into manatees, who are now safe from extinction because ... well, nobody bothers with them (ever try to hug one).
Most recently, in 2016, scientists made a distressing announcement: There were fewer than 30 vaquitas still alive from the thousands living in the Gulf of California only a decade ago. Vaquitas are small porpoises found only in these Mexican waters. According to World Wildlife Fund Mexico, they are disappearing at an alarming rate, a situation that can be traced to something really mundane: soup made with fish swim bladders. I think we can all relate to how scrumptious that is. The Chinese and the Japanese love it. The swim bladder, also known as maw, is a gas-filled organ fish use to stay buoyant underwater. Leave it to the Chinese to eat SCUBA gear.
Many believe that eating maw boosts blood circulation, retains youth and is an aphrodisiac, among other benefits. And of course, all this is as valid rationally as “ a Trump Memorial Library.”
It is the bladder of the totoaba, one of the largest drum fish on Earth, that is the primary cause of the vaquita’s decline. Like the vaquita, totoabas swim mainly in the northern Gulf of California. Totoabas can grow to over 6 feet and weigh more than 200 pounds, which gives them a pricey Kardashian-grade bladder. It has also put them on the endangered species list.
The deadly by-product of the totoaba catch is the innocent vaquita. The vaquitas become entangled and drown in the invisible gillnets used for trapping. Despite efforts by the Mexican government to stop fishing where the vaquitas live, their numbers have dropped like Ajijic police patrols.
To save the vaquitas, officials have launched a risky “last-ditch” effort to capture the remaining creatures and breed them in captivity, an idea that has divided the conservation community because some species are unable to live in captivity, where, like theater divas, they can get on one another’s nerves. But they tried it anyway out of desperation. This month, it has become clear that this project didn’t help. The little creatures aren’t built for captivity. Here we are in 2018 and the small innocents are down to 12 known existing vaquitas.
The illicit totoaba bladder trade is so profitable it’s been called aquatic cocaine. Criminal gangs and cartels aren’t happy destroying lives, they need to kill off entire species, too.
The sad thing is when no one can find them anymore, mankind will finally take notice, and they’ll get a photo spread in National Geographic. I discovered from that magazine that the record of species disappearing is frightening. Some 500 species, I’m told, are disappearing every day... without leaving a forwarding address. 500 species. Is that really possible without anybody knowing or caring?
Saving species doesn’t have a market value. So many people ask, why does this matter? One answer (not the only one) is that biodiversity underpins the health of the planet and has a direct impact on all our lives. For example, reduced biodiversity can mean that millions of people may face a future where basic food sources such as grains and mini-marine life are more vulnerable to toxins, pests and disease. It can also mean that biomass producing biochemicals for medicines will be reduced as well. Just recently, for example, an astounding new medical substance was found in jelly fish, a protein called apoaequorin successful in treating certain brain disorders and improving brain function. (A must for today’s Homo sapiens.)
I want to believe in the Lazarus Effect. Our beautiful vaquitas are simply hiding out. Remember the coelacanth, the fish they thought was extinct for two million years (because they only had fossils), and then was spotted one day vacationing off Madagascar? The poor miscreant had apparently been serving a jail term for failing to pay back taxes. Every year we find more of these “extinct” species hiding out somewhere with phony passports and nose jobs. And it never fails to amaze the experts. I hope that the vaquitas, in the same way mammals returned to the oceans to avoid predation, are disappearing just to get out of the way of so-called Homo sapiens. It’s time we took stock of our recklessness!