It’s a bad week to be a cetacean, especially one living off the coast of South America, apparently, where right whales are suffering death by a thousand cuts and the smallest porpoise still living on earth may not be much longer.

First we go to the Sea of Cortez, where the Mexican government this week cut funding to protect the critically endangered vaquita. Weighing in at only 55 pounds and represented by only about 150 surviving individuals, the vaquita is not only the world’s smallest porpoise, but also it’s most endangered. With the tourism dependent economy of Mexico reeling from the one two punch delivered by the worldwide economic crisis and a swine flu outbreak that has had people changing travel plans, it’s no surprise that projects like making fishing boats less likely to accidentally reel in the rare animals were among the first on the chopping  block. But even a healthy cynicism doesn’t make it any less disappointing to note that no help is in the offing for a species which has only 150 specimens left and is losing between 30 and 40 each year to unsafe fishing practices. It’s enough to make one wonder: if we can’t even save the cute, smart animals, like porpoises whose name means “little cow” what species can we save?

This week also brought sad news from the coast of Argentina, where three decades of attacks on right whales by an unlikely predator have wrought havoc on populations in one of the world’s most important right whale breeding grounds. The whales, especially mother and calf pairings, are under attack by flocks of seagulls, a behavior seen only in birds in this part of the world. The gulls wait until the whales surface, light on the animals ample backs, and start pecking away at an easy meal of blubber and flesh, leaving tiny wounds every time they do so. Over the years, these wounds develop into festering sores up to a foot and a half across. In their efforts to avoid the gull attacks, the whales spend more and more of their time in evasive maneuvers rather than feeding, contributing to the continuing poor health of young whales in the area.