Listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List of Threatened Species, vaquita porpoises are marine animals that are currently facing the battle to live.
Jorge Urban, a biology professor at the Baja California Sur University, said 22 vaquitas were heard over monitors by environmentalist groups who watch over the endangered species. However, that number is higher than expected, because some groups believe the species to be less than 15. Time magazine even reported that only 10 vaquitas remain in the world after finding a dead vaquita in a fish net off the coast in Mexico.
An IUCN report on March 6 also stated only 10 vaquitas were left in 2018, but there was a 95% chance their population is between six and 22.
Sea Shepherd, an environmental group, sent out patrol ships in the Gulf of California, when they spotted the porpoise trapped in a gillnet, which is an apparatus considered illegal as it is used to trap fish by their gills.
Gillnets threaten the fishes with “imminent extinction,” Sea Shepherd said. Fishermen use the illegal apparatus to target the totoaba fish, which is quite similar to the vaquita and is also considered critically endangered.
Every night 22 volunteer crew members from the group go out and search the Gulf for the gill nets and rescue any vaquitas and other fishes they encounter. However, their mission is no easy feat.
Just last month, the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat suffered two attacks after fast fishing boats pounded on their ship with rocks and firebombs, according to a report by CBS News.
“if we stop operations, the vaquita will go extinct,” Sea Shepherd fist mate Jack Hutton told CBS News. “It’s just out here removing nets, if we stop removing them then there’s no hope for the vaquita.”
Though Mexican marines and federal police help out with Sea Shepherd, they seemed incapable of handling the attacks or even prevent the fishermen from using the hidden nets, which were banned by law.
“Without immediate, effective action on the part of the Government, the vaquita is doomed to extinction,” Locky Maclean, Sea Shepherd Director of Marine Operations, said.