There are approximately 30 of these porpoises left in the wild.
Self-described actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio took to Twitter last week to call on his followers and animal rights advocates to sign a petition by the World Wildlife Fund that urges the president of Mexico to take immediate action to save the vaquita porpoise. He provided a link to the petition and let his followers know in a longer post on Instagram that the near-extinction of the Mexican vaquita porpoise has been solely caused by human activity and that Mexican officials are largely responsible for stopping this.
The vaquita porpoise is found only in Mexico’s Gulf of California and is the most endangered marine mammal on the entire planet. With just 30, or maybe even less, left in the world, this porpoise stands no chance of survival if humans continue to participate in the very activities that are leading to their extinction.
“Unsustainable and illegal fishing practices have caused a dramatic decline in the vaquita’s population,” explained DiCaprio on Instagram.
— Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) May 11, 2017
These porpoises are not in danger because they are targeted by fishermen, but they are the collateral damage of the illegal fishing of Totoaba macdonaldi fish, which are also endangered, and shrimp because of the gillnets used to sweep them up. Gillnets trap the targeted fish and shrimp, but the tiny porpoises also become entangled in the nets and drown as a result. Their population has been rapidly decreasing ever since they were first discovered a mere 50 years ago, and in 2016 alone approximately 30 died as a result of the fishing practices.
In response, the Mexican government established a two-year ban on using gillnets and also on shrimp and scale fishery in the area. Due to pressure from animal rights and environmental groups, President Enrique Peña Nieto made the ban permanent in order to show his commitment to make sure the porpoises don’t go extinct. The president also personally (and publicly) responded to Leo’s plea for help with in saving the vaquita porpoises on Twitter by pointing to the policies already in place to save the animals and reaffirming Mexico’s commitment to the creatures.
Visit https://t.co/yhTPVC4sby to learn more about Mexico's efforts to protect the Vaquita.
— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) May 12, 2017
The responsibility of making sure these porpoises are able to thrive and flourish without human threats is not the Mexican president’s alone, however. The U.S. provides the trade routes for the Chinese to transport the illegal Totoaba fish and the WWF has pointed at this as being a contributing factor to the porpoises’ demise.
The WWF called on the U.S. to “take swift and decisive action to stop transborder shipments of totoaba products and calling for the Chinese government to immediately stop the illegal transport and sale of totoaba products” in a statement in February.
Of course, since its the Chinese who demand these endangered fish, mostly to use their bladders for homeopathic medicines, China is also at fault here and would need to make a change to better regulate these products. There are many factors at work, so the recovery of the vaquita porpoises is in the hands of tons of people and several governments, but Leo DiCaprio’s posts certainly brought their extinction to the spotlight and added pressure to these governments to make an effort.