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World's Smallest Porpoise, The Vaquita, Nearing Extinction With Only 60 Left

May 18, 2016 09:42 AM EDT
Vaquita, the world's smallest porpoise endemic to Mexico, is now on the brink of extinction.
(Photo : Paula Olson/NOAA via Wikimedia Commons)

Environmentalists warned last week that the vaquita marina, the world's smallest porpoise endemic to Mexico, is on the brink of extinction.

The Mexican government reported that only 60 are now left in the wild, despite the deployment of naval reinforcement to implement a ban on fishing gillnets, as per The Guardian. These nets used for illegal fishing operations are blamed for the deaths of the vaquita.

According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), the vaquita is the rarest marine mammal in the world. Its population has been declining for years now, and it seems like government efforts weren't yet enough to save them.

The vaquita grows around 5 feet long and has dark rings around its eyes.

Last year, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto imposed a two-year ban on gillnets, which often have the vaquita as bycatch. He also increased their protection area to 13,000 square kilometers.

In an April mission, the Navy reported that they caught gillnets every day, with lengths even greater than football fields. These nets had vaquita, dolphins and sea lions as accidental catch.

WWF said the vaquita may be completely extinct by 2018 if stringent measures will not be done to stop fishery bycatch. Its case is likened to the totoaba fish, also a critically endangered species in the upper Gulf of California.

The totoaba is illegally marketed in other countries, with high demand in China.

Three dead vaquitas were found in March, despite actions by the Mexican government to prevent their species from declining.

In a report released by scientists, they recommended the extension of the gillnet ban, as well as the strengthening of enforcement methods.

"Every vaquita counts," said Omar Vidal, the director of WWF in Mexico, as per The New York Times. "Not one more can die... There is no more time left to do anything else [than banning all gillnet fishing]."

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