A species of porpoise only found in the Gulf of California in Mexico may become extinct by 2022 if harmful fishing practices continue, scientists say.
The vaquita, the smallest of the seven species of porpoise, is considered the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Only about 60 vaquita porpoises remain, according to a team of international scientists created by the Mexican government. The porpoises are often caught and drowned in nets set by fisherman for other marine creatures, particularly the totoaba fish. The swim bladders of totoaba, another endangered species, can sell for thousands of dollars in China, where they are used as an ingredient in soup.
“We are watching this precious native species disappear before our eyes,” said Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, the chair of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, last week.
In 2015, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto imposed a two-year ban on the use of gillnets— nets hung vertically in water to entangle fish by their gills—in the northern Gulf of California. The Mexican Navy also patrols the area to clear the nets. Conservationists say outlawing gillnets permanently is crucial for the vaquita’s recovery and survival.