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Global Ideas

Time running out for world's smallest porpoise

Bad news for the vaquita as environmentalists find one of the last of its kind washed up on the shores of the Gulf of California. The animal is threatened by illegal gillnets.

Environmentalists said conservation of the world's smallest porpoise was dealt a blow this week, after they found a dead baby vaquita washed up on Mexico's shores. The animal is on the verge of extinction with scientists estimating there are only about 30 left. 

The newborn was found with its umbilical cord still attached on a beach in the Gulf of California by U.S. environmental NGO Sea Shepherd, which said it is working with Mexican authorities to ascertain what killed the animal. 

Locals also reported spotting the body of an adult vaquita and provided pictures to the Sea Sheperd crew which has been unable to locate it. It is unclear whether it was the newborn's mother. 

"Under the stress of fighting for its life, a mother could have discharged the calf," said Sea Sheperd activist Oona Layolle in a statement

The main threat to the vaquita is drowning in gillnets used to illegally catch another endangered species, a large fish called the totoaba. The totoaba's dried swim bladder is often shipped to China where this "aquatic cocaine" fetches a high price. 

Scientists recently announced a last-ditch effort to save the porpoise by capturing some specimens and putting them in an enclosure in the Gulf of California to allow them to reproduce. But some environmentalists say the risk of the animals dying in the process is too high. 

AFP/jc

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