Mexico and Sea Shepherd combine efforts to save near-extinct vaquita

Two vaquitas, Photo: Paula Olson via Wikipedia
Two vaquitas, Photo: Paula Olson via Wikipedia

Mexico’s navy and the environmental organization Sea Shepherd are working together to save the vaquita porpoise from extinction.

The animals are critically endangered due to illegal gillnets used to catch totoaba, a large species of fish native to the Gulf of California in Mexico.

Gillnets form invisible barriers under the water that kill not just totoabas but also vaquitas, whales, dolphins, sharks and sea turtles, according to Sea Shepherd.

In January, the navy stepped up surveillance after criticism from the United States that Mexico was not doing enough to protect the vaquita, the smallest porpoise on the planet.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, fewer than 20 individuals are left in the world. They live in a small area of the Gulf of California.

The navy and Sea Shepherd now monitor the area daily, looking for illegal nets and preventing fishermen from approaching a “zero-tolerance zone.”

“The efforts that we’ve seen, specifically seen over the last three or four months, mean the vaquita has the best chance that they’ve had in decades,” Sea Shepherd CEO Chuck Lindsey said.

In 2017, American actor Leonardo DiCaprio asked his millions of social media followers to sign a petition calling on Mexico’s then-president Enrique Pena Nieto to do more to protect the porpoise. Last August, the Hollywood star accused President Andres Manuel Lopez
Obrador’s government of abandoning the vaquita.

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