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Conservationists Battle To Save The Vaquita, A Rare Porpoise07:03

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At the upper end of the Gulf of California, there is a fight for survival playing out. It pits Mexican drug cartels and Chinese wildlife traffickers against a species of porpoise so beautiful, it is sometimes described as the cutest mammal in the sea.

And time is short. Many conservationists say we may only have three years to save the vaquita, the world’s smallest and most critically-endangered cetacean, or marine mammal.

Vicki Croke, who reports on animal issues for Here & Now, told host Jeremy Hobson, “it’s estimated that there are fewer than 100 vaquita left.”

The vaquita has bold black tracings circling the eyes and painting a smile along the lips. (Barbara Taylor/NOAA)
The vaquita has bold black tracings circling the eyes and painting a smile along the lips. (Barbara Taylor/NOAA)

The vaquita are very small and according to Croke, “they are so shy, the only way to count them now is really not by sight but by listening for them underwater.”

The dwindling sea creatures are victims of dangerous fishing practices that conservationists are vehemently trying to curb.

“In season which is September to June, hundreds of miles of these gill nets, which are basically nearly invisible mesh curtains, are lowered into the waters where the porpoises live. In the process, vaquitas become tangled in the nets and because they are mammals like us — they breathe air — and they drown.” Croke said.

If the harmful use of these gill nets continues, experts say the vaquita will be "functionally extinct by 2018," says Croke.

“Because we don’t see under the water, we’re unaware of a lot of the problems that are happening and the ocean looks clean to us. But there are all kinds of problems and we really need to focus on saving oceans and sea species all around the world,” said Croke.

Vaquitas are pictured within a protected area off of Mexico. (Paula Olson/NOAA)
Vaquitas are pictured within a protected area off of Mexico. (Paula Olson/NOAA)

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