Mexico Fights to Save the World's Smallest Porpoise
Laurent Thomet and Dennis Chong -
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May 9, 2016

With the number of totoaba fish, whose swim bladders are dried and sold on the black market in China, and the world's smallest porpoise getting dangerously low, the Mexican government has increased efforts to end the illegal fishing pushing them to the brink of extinction. (AFP/Sandhya)

The high-speed navy boat stopped on the moonlit waters of Mexico's Gulf of California as sailors looked through binoculars for small vessels conducting illegal activities under the cover of darkness.

While naval forces patrol the seas to thwart drug trafficking, the sailors were not searching for cocaine ships that night off the coast of San Felipe, a fishing town.

They were hunting for poachers using banned gillnets to catch totoaba, a critically endangered fish whose swim bladders are dried and sold for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market in China despite an international prohibition.

The government beefed up patrols on the upper Gulf of California a year ago because the vast nets have also led to the near extinction of the world's smallest porpoise, the vaquita marina ("little cow").

The alarm was raised after a 2014 study found fewer than 100 vaquitas, down from 200 in 2012, warning the species could vanish by 2018. Scientists spotted up to 25 in October, but two turned up dead in March.

While pods of dolphins raced alongside the navy speedboats and whales sprayed mist out of their blowholes, no vaquitas were seen when Mexico's military recently gave journalists a one-day tour.

The shy 1.5-meter-long (five-foot) cetacean, which has a dark ring around the eye and a mouth turned up a like a smile, avoids human contact.

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