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Vaquita Porpoise on the Verge of Extinction [VIDEO]

Aug 14, 2014 05:10 PM EDT

Vaquita porpoises are on the verge of extinction unless the Mexican government eliminates gill-net fishing in its only habitat, according to an environmental report released earlier this month.

Living solely in the Gulf of California, vaquitas - whose name means "sea cow" in Spanish - are accidentally drowning in the gill nets local fishers deploy for fish and shrimp. Now, there are reportedly only 97 of these marine mammals left, according to the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita.

"The vaquita is in imminent danger of extinction," the team of researchers wrote. "Unless drastic action is taken immediately, the vaquita will be lost."

Even more deadly than fish and shrimping nets are totoaba nets. Totoaba - another endangered fish hunted in the same area - are prized for their gall bladders, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

"If there is fishing for totoaba this September, the vaquita might disappear this year," Omar Vidal of the World Wildlife Fund told The Associated Press. "Totoaba nets are the best device to catch vaquitas."

Mexico has worked to police tortoaba fishing, but experts say the financial incentives for fisherman to poach and sell tortoaba is too great.

"It's a brutal incentive," Lorenzo Rojas, a marine biologist in Mexico, told The Guardian. "They can earn in a few catches what they would normally earn in a year."

Mexican officials have placed restrictions on waters in the Colorado River delta, located in the Gulf of California, but they have failed to protect the species. The report recommended finding other ways to keep local fishermen employed, otherwise implement a total ban on the use of gill nets.

If the vaquita porpoise succumbs to the fatal fishing industry, it will be the second cetacean to vanish due to human pressures - the first was the baiji, or Chinese river dolphin. At this rate, experts expect vaquitas to disappear entirely by 2018.

[Credit: Chris Johnson]

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