The imminent extinction of the vaquita, AKA the “Gulf of California porpoise” or “Cochito,” the smallest known cetacean, is due to poachers hunting another endangered fish, the totoaba, according to ABC 10 San Diego.
Only about 50 vaquitas remain in the northernmost area of the Gulf of California, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They have been swept up in nets used by poachers to gather the totoaba. Mike Osborn with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services told ABC 10 that the captured totoaba are transported to Asia for sale, stating, “It’s a large sea bass that only exists in the Gulf of California. One of the hottest commodities out of Mexico right now, and again something that’s heading to Asia for the food trade….There was a similar fish that used to live off the coast of Asia, but they fished it out, it’s gone.”
ABC 10 reported that the totoaba sell for tens of thousands of dollars in Asia.
Vaquitas range from 4-5 feet in length and weigh between 65-120 lbs., with rounded heads with little or no beak. They are dark gray dark on their dorsal side and pale on their ventral sides, and lighten in color as they get older. They are mostly found within the Colorado River delta, and spotted between San Felipe Bay and Rocas Consag.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists the vaquita on its Red List of Threatened Species. The vaquita was listed on the endangered list in the Endangered Species Act in 1985, and protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.