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September 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 40, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Act Now to Save the Vaquita

from the September, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The smallest porpoise in the ocean is also the most endangered marine mammal in the world. 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 them left, according to a recent report, and unless the Mexican government eliminates gill-net fishing in its only habitat, vaquitas will disappear entirely by 2018.

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, and fishing season for them starts this month in the Sea of Cortez. "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 totoaba fishing, placing restrictions in the Colorado River delta, but experts say the financial incentives for fishermen to poach and sell totoaba 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."

The Ocean Conservancy believes the U.S. government should work with Mexico to ban the fishing nets that threaten the vaquita's future, and it has created a petition for people to sign to urge both countries to take action. Sign it at

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