Could AI help save the Vaquita?


Image from Google

Author: Analisa Ruiz, Projects Intern at C Minds



Meet the vaquita. Easily identifiable by the dark patches around its eyes and lips, this marine mammal can be found swimming alone in the Sea of Cortés, located between the northeastern coast of Mexico’s mainland and the Baja California Peninsula. They tend to avoid ships and do not spend much time near the surface, making them difficult to observe. Because of their aversion to humans, it’s possible you have never even heard of them. But if you have, it’s probably because, as of 2006, the vaquita claimed the title as the most endangered cetacean in the world.


Thirteen years later the situation has only gotten worse. How did this happen? And can AI help?


Vaquitas were recognized as critically endangered in 1996, with a little over 600 remaining. This number has decreased rapidly since, and it is estimated that somewhere between 6 and 22 vaquita are left. Many blame this extreme population decline on the use of gillnets, which fishermen use to capture the totoaba fish, another endangered marine species. The vaquita gets entangled in the gillnet and is unable to surface for air. The use of these nets have led to the endangerment of both the vaquita and the totoaba, and have been illegal in Mexico since 2015.