EXTINCT, FOR ALL INTENTS AND PORPOISES
Greed behind destruction of gentle marine mammal
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.
The vaquita porpoise has been driven to the brink of extinction.