The vaquita, a tiny porpoise species found only in the upper Gulf of California, is the world’s most endangered marine mammal with around 10 individuals remaining.
The vaquita is not hunted in its own right – it is collateral damage, killed accidentally in the illegal gillnets set primarily for totoaba fish, the dried swim bladders, or maw, of which are highly sought-after in China.
For more than two decades, scientists have warned that the survival of the vaquita was dependent on eliminating bycatch in gillnets; however, conservation action has been largely ineffective. The Mexican shrimp industry was largely to blame for the loss of over 70 per cent of the vaquita population from 1990 to 2010. The resurgence of the illegal totoaba fishery since 2010 has accelerated the species’ race to extinction as organised criminal networks have entered the market, seeking to profit from the high value of totoaba – itself an endangered species.