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The Race to Save Mexico's Vaquita from Extinction

Monica Ortiz Uribe - PRI's The World
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April 17, 2017

Illegal fishermen in northern Mexico are being blamed for driving the world’s most endangered marine mammal to the brink of extinction. (Al Jazeera)

It’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time, except it has nowhere else to go.

The vaquita marina — the little sea cow — is the world’s smallest porpoise. It lives only in the far-northern Gulf of California, just east of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, right where local fishermen are in hot pursuit of a very valuable creature. And its unfortunate fate has it on the brink of extinction.

“The vaquita marina [is] a source of pride for many in Mexico,” says American marine biologist Peggy Turk, who works on the Gulf of California. It’s a knobby-nosed creature about 4 and a half feet long, with clown-like dark accents around its eyes and mouth. It’s a very shy animal that few people have ever seen alive. And it exists nowhere else in the world.

“Nobody wants to kill the vaquita,” Turk says. “It just happens to live in the same place that fishermen are fishing with gill nets.”

What they’re fishing for is another endangered species — a mammoth fish called the totoaba that can weigh as much as 200 pounds. Many Chinese believe the totoaba’s swim bladder has medicinal powers, and they’re worth big bucks in Asia. A single bladder can sell for up to $10,000 in China.

It’s illegal to catch totoabas, but the temptation can be irresistible. And the gill nets local fisherman use to snag them also trap and kill other marina life, including the vaquita. After years of this fishing, scientists now estimate there are as few as 30 vaquitas left.

Read the rest at PRI's The World

Related: Could a Plan to Use Navy-Trained Dolphins to Save the Vaquitas be the Solution? (Al Jazeera)

  Check out Deep Blue Conservancy

  Check out The Western Ecological Society

  Check out Ecological Group of Costa Verde

  Check out Association for Environmental Unity in Mexico

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