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By John R. Platt and Tara Lohan
Let's be honest, 2019 was a rough year for the planet. Despite some environmental victories along the way, we saw the extinction crisis deepen, efforts to curtail climate change blocked at almost every turn, and the oceans continue to warm. We also heard new revelations about ways that plastics and chemicals harm our bodies, saw the political realm become even more polarized, and experienced yet another round of record-breaking temperatures.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Six months: That's how much time Mexico now has to report on its progress to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) from extinction.
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.
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.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says that its vessel, the M/V Farley Mowat, was ambushed on Jan. 31 by a group of poachers posing as fishermen while the ship was conducting maritime conservation patrols in a vaquita refuge in Mexico's Gulf of California. It's the second such attack in less than a month.
The conservation organization says its ship was surrounded by more than 50 assailants on 20 high speed boats, according to a press release shared with EcoWatch.
Sea Shepherd released a video showing fishermen shouting, hurling objects and trying to foul the propellors of the M/V Farley Mowat, a Sea Shepherd vessel used in campaigns against illegal fisheries activities.
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).
WATCH: Less Than 30 Vaquitas Remain. Sea Shepherd Is Determined to Save World's Most Endangered Marine Mammal
Watch as Sea Shepherd Ship Manager Rebecca Benjamin-Carey takes viewers on a tour through Operation Milagro V's latest vessel: The M/V White Holly. EcoWatch's Facebook / https://www.facebook.com/EcoWatch/videos/282268175718393/
Sea Shepherd will soon launch the White Holly vessel from Fernandina Beach, Florida to Mexico's Sea of Cortez in an effort to advance their latest campaign, Operation Milagro V. The campaign is focused on saving the the vaquita porpoise—the world's most endangered marine mammal.
EcoWatch teamed up with Sea Shepherd in this exclusive Facebook live video below to hear about their mission to save the vaquita. Asia's wildlife blackmarket is on track to driving the vaquita to extinction. Poachers causing the crisis are not actually after the vaquita, but the totoaba fish, as one totoaba bladder sells for $20,000 USD in China's blackmarket. As a result vaquitas are tragically getting trapped in illegal nets and dying at rapid rates.
Last year, an international vaquita recovery committee rang alarm bells after reporting that there were just 30 left on the planet, with more recent estimates pegging the tiny porpoise's population at only 12.
Now, the plight of the world's most endangered marine mammal—and the intense conservation efforts to save it—is the subject of a new documentary from Red Bull's Terra Mater Factual Studios, Variety reported Tuesday.
'Unprecedented Rescue Operation': Sea Shepherd Saves 25 Critically Endangered Totoabas at the Height of Spawning Season
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.