It's grim news for a tiny porpoise being inadvertently caught by poachers feeding a huge Chinese demand for another fish’s swim bladder, conservationists said today, with under two dozen of the little creatures left alive, and the AP reported if not for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the extinction would be here already.
Experts said today only 22 Vaquita porpoises remain in the Gulf of California, where an increasingly violent battle is playing out, fueled by demand in China. Chinese businessmen and consumers are exploiting Mexican fishermen over the Totoaba fish. Illegal to catch, its swim bladder is consumed only in China, according to conservationists Elephant Action League, who went undercover for over a year to expose the smuggling chain of custody. They explained to HPR in 2018 that all the Totoaba swim bladders are exported to China. Sadly, the tiny Vaquita porpoise is being caught in the process, along with tens of thousands of other animals in indiscriminate gill nets: seals, turtles, sharks, rays and many other unsuspecting animals.
The AP quoted Jorge Urban, a biology professor at the Baja California Sur University, who said the 22 Vaquitas were heard over a network of acoustic monitors. It may be a sign the Vaquita is holding on, and what is keeping it alive, the AP reported, are the Sea Shepherd volunteers. Every night, volunteer crew members from ships operated by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society search for gill nets, which fishermen leave unattended and then the Sea Shepherds methodically remove the nets. In the process they save still-alive animals entangled in the nets, and document those killed. They have many inspiring videos of their volunteers rescuing animals on the edge of death, trapped in the gill nets, until the Sea Shepherd crew rescues them. This is an example.
It is increasingly dangerous work. Over the last month, Sea Shepherd ships have suffered two attacks in which dozens of fast fishing boats pounded the ship with rocks and firebombs. The Sea Shepherd vessels have Mexican Marines and Police onboard, and they fired rubber bullets in the most recent attacks, but they’ve been intimidated by the fishermen, said documentary filmmaker Richard Ladkani, who directed "Sea of Shadows," a new film on the crisis. He claimed Mexican Marines stood by while fishermen attacked previously, and asked "Why is the navy not using force?" Investigator Andrea Crosta of the group Elephant Action League did have some good news: Totoaba prices appear to be falling; he called that "the first good news for the Vaquita in a long, long time." He attributed that to his group's work in identifying illegal traders in Baja California's Chinese community, noting that the Chinese government recently arrested 16 Chinese citizens who were traders of Totoaba swim bladders.
In the meantime, the Sea Shepherd goes each night and hauls in nets, sometimes as many as 15 per night. The totoaba swim bladders bring tens of thousands of dollars apiece in China. Chinese consumers drive extinction crises that are wiping out elephants, rhinos, tigers, pangolins, jaguars and numerous other species.