Experts in Mexico said that the Vaquita Porpoise which are the smallest of the world’s cetaceans and critically endangered marine mammals, are likely to go extinct before the end of this year.

This latest news comes as Biologists have counted a total of 22 Vaquita Porpoises in the Gulf of Mexico, the Los Angeles Times reports. The number is a little higher that what was previously expected, as it was believed that these small marine mammals, had drop down as few as 15.

Vaquitas are very unique specie; they have a body shape and a colour pattern unlike that of any other. They have a tall dorsal fin for a porpoise) and a beautiful colour pattern on the face, with dark eye rings and lip patches that look like an application of “Goth” make-up, the Vaquita are also known as the “marine Mona Lisa.”

“Cross Flipper with a very shy panda and you’ve bred a Vaquita,” journalist Ben Goldfarb wrote for the Pacific Standard.

The main reason for their looming extinction is because of the on-going trafficking of another rare the ‘Totoaba’ fish, whose swim bladder is highly valued in China as a delicacy.

It may be a sign the Vaquita is holding on, and what is keeping it alive is a thin line of defenders:  Every night 22 volunteer crew members from ships operated by the environmentalist group Sea Shepherd go out to search the upper Gulf for hidden gill nets that catch prized — but protected — Totoaba fish and drown Vaquitas.

Goldfarb explained:

“They share their habitat with a fish called the Totoaba, a mammoth cousin of the sea bass whose swim bladders are a delicacy worth up to $100,000 per kilogram in mainland China and Hong Kong. Although Totoaba fishing has been banned since 1975—they, too, are critically endangered—poaching is rampant. Vaquitas, roughly the same size as Totoabas, are prone to getting entangled and drowning in illegal nets.”

Each year in May, the Gulf which is also known by the locals as the Sea of Cortex is the centre attention of fisherman fishing for Tototabas The Biologists fear that this year’s rush for the Totoaba could actually wipe out of what little remains of the Vaquita population.

Jorge Urban, researcher at Baja California Sur University (UABVS) and head of the Marine Mammal Research Program, told Reporte Indigo:

“Until now, the government’s position has been to do nothing until the problem subsides. It’s very likely that by June, the species will be extinct … and the problem is no longer an issue. The trafficking of the Totoaba fish will continue.”

The Mexican officials are trying their very best to stop the fishermen which have largely consisted of moves to repress fishermen using force, with police and Mexican marines using non-lethal weaponry against violent fishermen, who are not shy of fighting back to rescue an arrested fellow crew member.

However, in the bigger picture, the fishermen–largely poverty-stricken labourers from the Baja coast–argue that they are small-fry targets who are at the mercy of Chinese-Mexican illegal dealers and profiteers who give high-interest loans allowing fisherman to acquire nets that cost up to $3,000 each, low-ball the price of Totoabas, and sell their goods for an exorbitant profit in China.

Fisherman leader Sunshine Rodriguez told NBC:

“I know people who are dedicated 100 present to that (Totoaba) business, and don’t even have $10 to put gas in the tank of their panga … The Chinese are making the profit, that I can tell you.”

Investigator Andrea Costa from conservationist group Elephant Action League also noted that Mexican government efforts to crack down on the illegal fishing trade will continue to fail as long as fishermen are targeted, rather than middlemen and traders. Thanks to Costa’s efforts, 16 Chinese nationals were recently arrested by the Chinese government due to their role in the illegal Totoaba trade.

China, for its part, has long maintained that it has a zero-tolerance attitude toward the illegal trade in endangered wildlife. However, since the country undertook market reforms in the 1980s, the expanding spending power of Chinese consumers has seen the demand and appetite for exotic fish and endangered animals translate directly into the depletion of endangered populations across the globe–from West Africa to the Galapagos Islands and now, the Gulf of California.

Costa explained:

“As long as you hammer, put all your efforts only on the fishermen, only on removing the nets, you will fail. You don’t address the problem, and the problem is a very sophisticated supply chain As long as you don’t hit these people and you do that … you’ll bleed out, not only the Vaquita but the whole marine life in the Sea of Cortez.”

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Article Credit: The Mind Unleased