Say Goodbye to Earth's Smallest Porpoise

Vaquitas are illegally fished in the Gulf of California
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2016 2:30 PM CDT
'Smirking' Porpoise About to Go Extinct
In this Feb. 1992 file photo, a female vaquita lies dead after getting entangled in a gillnet in the upper Gulf of California.   (AP Photo/Omar Vidal, Proyecto Vaquita, File)

Fishermen are on the verge of eradicating a porpoise known for its little body and distinctive smirk—and only a massive effort by three world governments can save it, scientists say. The vaquita, also known as "little cow," was already the most endangered marine mammal on Earth. Now there are just 60 left, down from 97 in 2014, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "I believe it is possible to still save the vaquita," says Omar Vidal of the World Wildlife Foundation about the world's smallest porpoise. "The Mexican, US and Chinese governments need to take urgent and coordinated action to stop the illegal fishing." That means stopping fishermen in Mexico's Gulf of California, where all vaquitas live, and curbing the market for a rare fish prized by the Chinese.

That fish is the totoaba, which the Chinese love for a bladder that's said to have medicinal effects. Smugglers often run totoaba bladders through the US to Asia, where they can fetch up to $10,000 each, the AP reports. Problem is, vaquitas often get caught in gill nets used to catch the totoaba. So Mexico has cracked down by banning gill nets and paying fishermen not to use them, but the payment system is uneven, with some getting tens of thousands of dollars and others only hundreds. Mexican authorities are also patrolling for totoaba fishermen, but they seem to hide among boats fishing legally for corvina. Meanwhile, three vaquitas were found dead in three weeks of March alone. "If we continue losing the vaquita at this rate it will be extinct by this coming December," says an activist. (More porpoise stories.)

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