At the moment, vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal, with this year’s census estimating their number at less than 60. This rare and elusive porpoise is endemic to Mexico, confined to a small section in the northern part of the Gulf of California. It was described as a new species in 1958 and now, half of a century later, we are on the brink of losing them forever. They are often caught and drowned in gillnets used by illegal fishing operations in marine protected area within Mexico’s Gulf of California.
China’s demand for swim bladders from a giant mexican fish called the totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) is putting the vaquita at risk. The totoaba closely resembles another species that was highly desired in the Asian market but was fished to extinction. Its swim bladders, believed to have medicinal value, can fetch anywhere from $2,500 to $9,400 per 100 grams, making them attractive prey for poachers who employ gillnets. This fishing method employs walls of net dropped down to trap fish, which may also suffocate other species such as dolphins, turtles and also vaquitas in the process.
Three vaquitas have already been killed this season. IUCN Cetacean Specialists Group comment that the necropsy suggested all three likely fell victim to the gillnets which ensnared them. At this rate, the porpoise might go extinct as early as 2018 if fishery bycatch is not eliminated immediately. Is important to say that the totoaba is also critically endangered, meaning the illegal fishery is devastating two species at the same time in the same ecosystem.