Just south of the border, in the Gulf of California down in Baja, Mexico, lives the most endangered marine mammal in the world. It's called the vaquita porpoise, and it has the bad luck of being caught in gillnets that fishermen set for other species. In other words, vaquita are bycatch—the unintended victims of fishing—and this has brought vaquita to the edge of extinction. To make matters worse, much of that fishing supplies an illegal trade in wildlife parts to China.
Scientists estimate that fewer than 100 vaquita remain, and the Mexican government, with technical assistance from NOAA Fisheries, is working to protect what’s left of the species.
Barb Taylor is a conservation biologist with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, and she was the co-chief scientist on an expedition last summer to estimate how many vaquita remain. In this podcast, Dr. Taylor points out that, historically, several species of marine mammals have been rescued from similarly dire straits. But time is running out for vaquita.