Death bring world’s smallest porpoise closer to extinction

Dead vaquita. Photo: Robbie NewbySan Felipe, Baja California, MEXICO – March 21, 2017 – Sea Shepherd found the body of a dead vaquita porpoise floating in the Gulf of California on Sunday March 19, 2017.

The non-profit marine conservation society has been in the upper Gulf since last fall as part of Operation Milagro III to save the vaquita and the endangered totoaba bass. Sea Shepherd’s anti-poaching ships, the M/V Farley Mowat and M/Y Sam Simon are currently patrolling the area.

At 2:47pm on Sunday, the Farley Mowat crew came across the dead vaquita – known as the world’s smallest porpoise – and notified the Mexican authorities to retrieve it. The carcass is currently being held in San Felipe, frozen, awaiting an examination to determine its cause of death.

With the near-extinct vaquita porpoise now numbering less than 30, the devastating sight comes exactly one week after Sea Shepherd found a dead newborn vaquita on the beach just 33 km south of San Felipe.

“Witnessing one of the few remaining vaquita in the entire world dead and floating in front of our ship was devastating to my crew,” said Farley Mowat Captain Luisa Albera. “We are continuing to stay focused on retrieving all nets that are trapping the vaquita to death.”

Over the weekend, the Farley Mowat and Sam Simon recovered 11 illegal totoaba nets. These nets are the most common cause of death for the vaquita as it entangles the porpoise, causing it to drown.

These nets are set up by illegal fisherman to trap the totoaba and export its swim bladder for sale on the black market in China and Hong Kong. There it is prized for unsubstantiated medicinal properties and can fetch more than $20,000 per kilo. Due to this high street value, the totoaba bladder is frequently referred to as “aquatic cocaine” and is the only reason this fish is being killed. 

“The illegal trafficking of totoaba swim bladders in the Gulf of California is at an all-time high. If things continue at this rate, there is little hope for the vaquita’s survival,” said Operation Milagro III Campaign Leader and Sam Simon Captain Oona Layolle. “It is depressing to witness the extinction of a species due to human greed. Despite the devastating deaths seen in the past week, Sea Shepherd’s relentless work in the Gulf continues to save many marine animals’ lives and we will continue to defend, conserve and protect the marine life here including the vaquita.”

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