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New Doc on Nearly Extinct Vaquita Features Sea Shepherd

Animals
A vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Paula Olson / NOAA

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.


The new film, slated for completion this year, has the working title Vaquita—Sea of Ghosts. The name likely refers to the vaquita being driven to the brink of extinction due to unauthorized gillnet or "ghost net" fishing in the Gulf of California, the critically endangered species' only known habitat. Gillnets, which are used to catch totoaba bass sought by Chinese markets, can entangle and kill marine animals, including the vaquita that get trapped in them.

Terra Mater previously collaborated with actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio's production company Appian Way on 2016's The Ivory Game that was among the 15 finalists for the best feature documentary Oscar.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society—which has vigorously campaigned to save the imperiled porpoise—is also working on the documentary, as Captain Paul Watson announced in a Facebook post.

According to Variety, the film starts with a meeting between DiCaprio and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Last June, they signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at conserving marine ecosystems in the Gulf of California and saving the vaquita porpoise.

Vaquita—Sea of Ghosts also shows sometimes-heated conflict between Mexican drug cartels and Chinese crime gangs versus the Mexican government, the U.S. Navy, the FBI, Sea Shepherd and other wildlife activist groups, Variety reported.

The film is directed by award-winning Richard Ladkani, who was also behind The Ivory Game. It will premiere internationally in 2018.

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