A vaquita trapped in a fisherman's net. Fewer than 100 vaquitas are living today, their population nearly wiped out by poachers sweeping up another rare species and shrimp fishermen casting huge nets. Photo: via savenaturesavehuman.blogspot.com

[UPDATE: Petition to save the vaquita from extinction]

14 September 2014

SAN FELIPE, Mexico (The New York Times) – It is a rare moment when scientists can point to an animal at the edge of extinction and predict when it might disappear forever. But it is happening here, under the golden waters of the desert-rimmed sea, where a small porpoise has almost vanished.

Nobody imagined that the end would approach so quickly. What changed was the appearance of a new threat to the snub-nosed porpoise known as the vaquita: organized crime.

The vaquita, a shy marine mammal, is simply collateral damage as poachers here sweep up another endangered species, a giant fish called the totoaba, to please consumers in China. The vaquitas become entangled and die in the nets set for totoaba.

Like the Chinese demand for other rare animal parts, including shark fins, the market for totoaba is driven by customers who pay generously, in this case, for the totoaba’s swim bladder. Dried and served in soup, it is believed to have medicinal qualities.

With each kilogram of swim bladder fetching as much as $10,000 here, its sale is more lucrative than that of marijuana.

The effect of the totoaba poaching on the vaquita came as a shock to conservationists. A study released in July concluded that half of the population, which inhabits the northern reaches of the Gulf of California, had been killed in two years, leaving just 97 vaquitas.

The numbers prompted a group of Mexican and international vaquita experts to issue a dramatic warning. Without drastic steps to save the world’s smallest marine mammal, the group said, it would disappear within four years.

“It’s definitely the last call for this species,” said Barbara Taylor, a marine mammal expert who is part of the scientists’ group, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita. [more]

A Porpoise Is Ensnared by Criminals and Nets



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