Only 10 Vaquita Porpoises Left in the Wild

A mother and calf vaquita, a critically endangered small tropical porpoise native to Mexico’s Gulf of California, surface in the waters off San Felipe, MexicoPaula Olson/NOAA Fisheries via REUTERS

The number of vaquita, a tiny, silver porpoise that lives exclusively in Mexico’s Gulf of California, is down to 10 remaining in the wild.

But the world’s smallest and most endangered marine mammal may be able to keep its numbers up, even with inbreeding, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, determined in a study published in Science.

The team analyzed the genomes of 20 tissue samples and found that the genetic makeup of the population was diverse enough to make a recovery. This may be because the population had been a smaller one to begin with, with 570 existing in the wild in 1997.

Having a small population with a less diverse genetic makeup usually increases the risk of mutations that can harm a population and put their survival at risk. However, with the vaquitas, their small numbers may have helped to “purge” harmful genetic traits from spreading.

“They’re essentially the marine equivalent of an island species,” said co-lead author Jacqueline Robinson.“The vaquitas’ naturally low abundance has allowed them to gradually purge highly deleterious recessive gene variants that might negatively affect their health under inbreeding.”

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SOURCE: Business Insider, Hannah Getahun