The remains of two vaquitas, a critically endangered species of porpoise, were found in the waters off the coast of California in the span of one month. A conservation group calls the discovery alarming.
The vaquita porpoise is on the verge of extinction, with only 30 left in the world, conservation group Sea Shepard says.
"It is devastating," said OonaLayolle, captain of Sea Shepard. "It's been like three years we are now patrolling the north of the Gulf of California and this is really what we don't want to see. It's just so sad."
Loyolle, who has been heading the organization for four years now, said they work in collaboration with the Mexican government to battle illegal fishing and poaching in the oceans.
According to Sea Shepard, a pre-born vaquita was found floating in the Gulf of California, just south of San Felipe on March 12.
“Having a preborn death is devastating," Loyelle said.
Loyolle said the vaquitas are getting trapped by illegal fishing nets placed on the sea bed to catch the totoaba bass.
The fish are popular for their swim bladders which are smuggled into China and sold on the black market. Often, they are used for medicinal purposes, bringing in $20,000 per kilo, Loyolle said.
She added that fisherman catch the totoaba, take the swim bladders and then throw the fish back into the sea.
Sea Shepard crews found 17 floating dead totoabas without swim bladders recently.
On March 14, they found 66 dead totoabas. Loyolle said the numbers tell an alarming story--that the market for swim bladders is getting bigger which could impact the vaquita population as well.
She said their organization is doing what it can to help the rare mammal.
“When we started this campaign, we wanted to do anything that was possible to save the Vaquita," she said. "But what we’re doing there is also saving so many other species because those nets are catching a lot of different marine creatures, like sharks [and] whales. So cleaning the bottom of the sea from all those illegal nets is really important.”
California Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, has introduced a bill to help save the vaquitas. The bill would make it illegal to possess or sell fish products caught in the northern Gulf of California with a gillnet.