Conservationists are in a race against time to save the cute little porpoise species known as the vaquita from becoming extinct. The vaquita is the world’s rarest marine mammal, so rare that only an estimated 60 individuals are thought to exist. Their habitat is restricted to a small area of the Gulf of California, the body of water between the western coast of mainland Mexico and the Baja California peninsula.
The critically endangered vaquita is threatened by illegal fishing using gillnets, which trap the small marine mammal and drown it. Local fishermen are being paid not to fish using gillnets in a last-ditch effort by the Mexican government to save the vaquita.
According to conservation experts, the plight of the vaquita is closely linked to that of a local rare fish called the totoaba. The swim bladder of the totoaba is highly prized in Chinese traditional medicine (and cuisine). This has resulted in the illegal poaching of totoaba using gillnets, killing both the totoaba and any vaquitas caught in the nets. Since selling just one totoaba on the black market can bring in the equivalent of a month’s salary to a Mexican fisherman, conservationists are concerned that the fishing will continue despite efforts to stop it.
Interested in learning more? You can watch this report on the vaquita from 60 Minutes:
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