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Keywords:

  • risk factors;
  • vaquita;
  • Phocoena sinus;
  • bycatch;
  • pollution;
  • inbreeding depression;
  • productivity

Abstract

Despite the vaquita being commonly cited as one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, there is still disagreement over which factors put the species at greatest risk of extinction. This lack of agreement hinders management decisions needed to reduce the risk to the species. To expedite decision-making we consider four major risk factors. Habitat alteration from reduced flow of the Colorado River does not currently appear to be a risk factor because productivity remains high in vaquita habitat. Pollutant loads are low and pose low to no risk. Reduced fitness from inbreeding depression and loss of genetic variability are unlikely to pose high risk currently, though risk will increase if vaquitas remain at low abundance over long periods of time. Mortality resulting from fisheries bycatch poses high risk. Thus, short term management should not be hindered by uncertainty in estimating the risk of these factors, and primary conservation efforts should be directed to wards immediate elimination of incidental fishery mortality.