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University of St. Andrews Communications Office

There are only between six and 19 vaquitas left, a new study has concluded, and, unless swift action is taken, the endangered species could go extinct within a year.

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Demonstrators with the Animal Welfare Institute hold a rally to save the vaquita, the world's smallest and most endangered porpoise in Washington, DC, on July 5, 2018. SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

Scientists announced Thursday that only 10 vaquita porpoises likely remain in the world and that the animal's extinction is virtually assured without bold and immediate action.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A vaquita photographed in Mexico in 2008. Paula Olson, NOAA

My organization, the Elephant Action League (EAL), spent 14 months investigating and infiltrating the illicit totoaba swim bladder supply chain, from Baja California in Mexico to Southern China. We released a public report on what we called Operation Fake Gold in July 2018. Since then, we have continued to submit intelligence to Mexican, U.S. and Chinese authorities in order to facilitate disruption of the totoaba supply chain. As a result, further review of the situation surrounding the totoaba trade and its effect on the extinction of the vaquita is warranted.

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The body of a vaquita killed as bycatch in Baja California, Mexico. Flip Nicklin / Minden

In a crucial win for the quickly vanishing vaquita porpoise, a federal appeals court sided with conservationists Wednesday when it upheld a ban on Mexican seafood imports caught with gillnets, which drown the endangered marine mammal. "Immediate pressure on Mexico to ban all gillnets in the upper Gulf of California and to clear the area of illegal nets is necessary now for the vaquita's survival," said Giulia Good Stefani, a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

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Silvertip Sharks (Carcharhinus albimarginatus) caught in gillnet. Jeff Rotman / Oxford Scientific / Getty Images

The California State Assembly unanimously approved a bill on Thursday that phases out the use drift gillnets in the state by January 2023.

The controversial fishing gear, which can stretch a mile long and suspend 100 feet underwater, is used by fishers to target sharks and swordfish, but the nets inadvertently entangle and kill scores of other marine animals, including endangered species.

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Up to 100 hammerhead shark pups were found dead Tuesday morning near Keehi Lagoon in Honolulu. Experts suggested that gillnet fishing could be the culprit.

Authorities at the state's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement have opened an investigation after the baby sharks were discovered by the La Mariana Sailing Club, according to local media.

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Taiwanese humpback dolphins. Center for Biological Diversity

The National Marine Fisheries Service protected rare Taiwanese humpback dolphins on Tuesday, listing the species as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act. The decision comes in response to a March 2016 petition from the Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians seeking U.S. protections to help prevent the extinction of a population that now numbers fewer than 100 individuals.

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At 7:45 p.m. PST Monday, the Sea Shepherd vessel M/V SHARPIE came upon an illegal gillnet within the Vaquita Refuge in the Northern Sea of Cortez, Mexico. The gillnet was entangled in a longline. As the ship's crew began to separate the illegal fishing gear, they noticed live totoaba bass in the net, embarking on an unprecedented rescue operation.

It is the height of totoaba bass spawning season in the Upper Gulf of California, when the endangered fish migrate directly to an area inhabited by the vaquita porpoise. The vaquita is currently the most endangered marine mammal in the world, and continues to be threatened as bycatch in the illegal totoaba trade.

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A manta ray in the South China Sea. Greg Asner / Divephoto.org

By Douglas McCauley and Paul DeSalles

(The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.)

1. U.S. Drops Out of Paris

In our 2015 ocean top 10 list, we celebrated the adoption of the Paris agreement as a monumental achievement for slowing the warming, acidification and deoxygenation of our global oceans. In 2017, remaining nations like Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Syria ratified the agreement, bringing the total number of ratifying nations to 171. But in a radical about-face of global leadership on climate action, the Trump administration officially declared that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris agreement, citing unfair impacts on the American economy.

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Christy Williams / WWF

It's been a big year for conservation.

Together we assured the world that the U.S. is still an ally in the fight against climate change through the We Are Still In movement, a coalition of more than 2,500 American leaders outside of the federal government who are still committed to meeting climate goals. WWF's activists met with legislators to voice their support for international conservation funding. And we ensured that Bhutan's vast and wildlife-rich areas remain protected forever through long-term funding.

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Floating sea pen designed to hold captured vaquitas. Kerry Coughlin / National Marine Mammal Foundation

By Mike Gaworecki

Last month, the government of Mexico launched a last-ditch effort to save the critically endangered vaquita, a small porpoise known to reside only in the Gulf of California.

A team of marine mammal experts assembled by the Mexican government created a project called Vaquita Conservation, Protection and Recovery (VaquitaCPR) that aims to capture the remaining 30 vaquitas (Phocoena sinus) and keep them safe in specially built floating "sea pens" until the species' survival is no longer threatened by the illegal trade and fishing activities that have driven them to the brink of extinction.

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