Experts said on Wednesday March 6, that only 22 vaquitas remain in the Gulf of California, where a grim, increasingly violent battle is playing out between emboldened fishermen and the last line of defense for the smallest and most endangered porpoise in the world.
Jorge Urban, a biology professor at the Baja California Sur University, said the 22 vaquitas were heard over a network of acoustic monitors at the end of summer. That was in fact higher than many had expected; some had estimated as little as 15 would remain in the Gulf, also known as the Sea of Cortez, the only place in the world where the vaquita marina is found.
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.
It is increasingly dangerous work. Over the last month, the Sea Shepherd ship Farley Mowat has suffered two attacks in which dozens of fast fishing boats pounded the ship with rocks and firebombs.
“If we stop operations, the vaquita will go extinct,” said Sea Shepherd first mate Jack Hutton. “It’s just out here removing nets, if we stop removing them then there’s no hope for the vaquita.”