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Sandy Solomon: Vaquitas

The number of vaquitas left

was around 30 in early 2019.


Today, news about small dolphins:

Only sixty vaquitas left.

Two years back, they numbered some

one hundred “individuals,” living 

in the Gulf of Mexico’s northern reaches.

So clever those vaquitas—little cows,

gulf porpoises: the dolphin brain

as complex as that of any animal

but humans. Dolphins learn by observing.

They remember events, know their surroundings,

focus on a task and solve problems.

Dolphins have a sense of self and place.

Who cares? Mexico and America claim

circumstances beyond our control

to explain why gestures at protection fail.

You see, the Chinese pay enormous sums for

totoaba, an endangered fish,

its swim bladder a delicate taste and “cure”

for circulation ills, infertility.

So poachers set gillnets for totoaba,

nets that descend like fate to entangle vaquitas,

little breathers. One by one, gone.

No escape, so nothing for the pod to learn

and teach however keen each understanding.

Weavers between water and air, playful 

interpreters, they lived once in a more 

gentle world. And now they’re drowned.


Constant news of human beings:

so clever with our complex brains, 

more intelligent than other animals.

We extract the fuels we burn to power

our cities: our buildings, cars, and planes; 

we remember events, learn by observing,

focus on a task and solve problems.

We have a sense of self and place.

We make trouble for ourselves, the world,

but trouble happens slowly so we don’t 

consider outcomes: we make an engine 

or smokestack, or invent a clever 

way to force natural gas 

from deep below ground with water 

and chemicals and pressure. We don’t  

seem as a species to connect cause 

with effect—cancer from pesticides 

or radioactive leaks. We can make 

of our homes no place to live, water

poisoned, air thick with burning,

farms parching, whole latitudes

soon hostile to life, coasts 

drowned, while most of us repeat,

“Not me” as we turn to fork our meat.

Copyright 2019 Sandy Solomon

The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is a species of porpoise endemic to the northern part of the Gulf of California that is on the brink of extinction. 

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