People, Environment

World’s Smallest Porpoise Battling Extinction

World’s Smallest Porpoise Battling ExtinctionWorld’s Smallest Porpoise Battling Extinction

Environmentalists warned on Friday that Mexico’s vaquita marina, the world’s smallest porpoise, was close to extinction as the government reported that only 60 were now left.

The population has dramatically dropped despite the arrival of navy reinforcements in the upper Gulf of California in April 2015 to enforce a two-year ban on fishing gillnets blamed for the vaquita’s death.

The porpoise’s population had already fallen to fewer than 100 in 2014, down from 200 in 2012, according to the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), a global group of scientists, AFP reported.

Mexico’s environment ministry said in a statement a joint study with CIRVA between September and December estimated the latest population at “around 60”.

 “The vaquita is at the edge of extinction,” the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement, warning that 20% more have probably died in nets since January.

The vaquita’s fate has been linked to another critically endangered sea creature, the totoaba, a fish that has been illegally caught for its swim bladder, which is dried and sold on the black market in China.

Poachers use illegal gillnets to catch the totoaba and the vaquita, a shy 1.5-metre-long cetacean with dark rings around the eyes, is believed to be the victim of bycatch.

The Mexican government agreed in 2015 to compensate local fishermen in a $30 million-a-year program to give up gillnets while they look for safer alternative nets.

But navy sailors who were deployed to enforce the government’s ban on gillnets said during a tour of their mission in April that they were catching gillnets every day – three to 10 times the length of a football field, often ensnaring totoabas, dolphins, turtles and sea lions.

Officials say fishermen sell the totoaba’s swim bladders to smugglers who store them in border towns before sending them to the US or shipping them directly to Asia in suitcases or through parcel services.

Each bladder fetches about $1,500-$1,800 in Mexico, rising to $5,000 in the US and $10,000 to $20,000 apiece in Asia, according to US authorities.

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