EX­TINCT, FOR ALL IN­TENTS AND POR­POISES

Greed be­hind de­struc­tion of gen­tle marine mam­mal

The Province - - NEWS | CANADA - BRAD HUNTER

Quack reme­dies in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine are driv­ing a tiny Mex­i­can por­poise to the brink of ex­tinc­tion.

The vaquita is just four feet long, weighs less than 100 pounds and lives in the wa­ters off the coast of Baja, Mex­ico.

But with just 30 of the crea­tures left in 2017, it is, ac­cord­ing to CBS News, the most en­dan­gered marine mam­mal in the world.

The rea­son? A fish called the to­toaba and de­mand among the Chi­nese elite for its swim blad­der in tra­di­tional medicine.

Poach­ers use il­le­gal gill nets to catch the to­toaba (an en­dan­gered species as well) by the hun­dreds, and the few re­main­ing vaquita are snagged in the nets and drown.

The por­poises are col­lat­eral dam­age in a quest for the to­toaba’s swim blad­der, which can fetch up to $10,000 on a black mar­ket driven by Mex­i­can gang­sters.

“They’re lovely, small, delicate por­poises clearly en­joy­ing their en­vi­ron­ment. They re­ally live an ideal life if hu­mans weren’t set­ting nets in their area,” Dr. Frances Gul­land, se­nior sci­en­tist at the Marine Mam­mal Cen­ter in Sausal­ito told CBS.

“Fish blad­ders are claim­ing to have these mirac­u­lous prop­er­ties they clearly don’t have. It’s a mar­ket­ing thing that’s hap­pen­ing” said Pe­ter Knights, founder and CEO of WildAid.

“We never ex­pected the to­toaba de­mand would just rocket to the sky,” said Lorenzo Ro­jas Bra­cho, head of Marine Mam­mal Con­ser­va­tion and Re­search for the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Ecol­ogy and Cli­mate Change in Mex­ico.

But the fish mafias are re­port­edly in­tent on mass slaugh­ter, lead­ing the to­toaba to the en­dan­gered list and the vaquita to the brink of ex­tinc­tion. In 2011 there were 600 of the mam­mals. Bra­cho says now there could be as few as 15 left.

“You have mafias or or­ga­nized crime mov­ing this prod­uct from Mex­ico to China,” Bra­cho said.

“You have au­thor­i­ties bribes and all the in­gre­di­ents of this kind of mass dis­ease.”

A re­cent raid by U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents seized 241 to­toaba swim blad­ders from a home in Calex­ico.

Their value? Nearly $4 mil­lion.

“In my opin­ion it’s re­ally too lit­tle too late and we hope we learn some lessons for the fu­ture,” Knights said.

PAULA OL­SON/ NOAA VIAAP

The vaquita por­poise has been driven to the brink of ex­tinc­tion.

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