Conservationists believe that the animal carcass they discovered in the Vaquita Refuge was a vaquita porpoise. The creatures are critically endangered, with possibly less than 10 alive.
Illegal Fishing Gear Patrol
On March 12, two Sea Shepherd ships were on patrol in the Vaquita Refure for possible illegal fishing gear. When sea conditions finally allowed them to go back to the targeted location to remove the net, they found some wildlife entangled in the net including the carcass of a white animal.
Some of the team assumed that is was a totoaba fish, which are the target species for the illegal nets in the first place. They are often caught and their swim bladders are sold in the black market for Asian medicinal soup. Unfortunately, this also causes problems for other marine creatures such as vaquita porpoises, and in fact in 2015, the team documented 36 marine mammals trapped in illegal gillnets.
In the case of the unidentified white animal, it was already clearly dead when the team found it, as it no longer had a head and was already in a state of decomposition. Despite this, the team believes that it might be a vaquita porpoise, which is one of the most endangered marine mammal in the world. In fact, should it turn out to be a vaquita porpoise, it might have been one of just six to 22 of the species left.
So far, primary photographs of the creature sent to marine mammal experts confirm that its length and morphology matches that of a vaquita porpoise, but DNA analysis is required to confirm this.
Unfortunately, there is a rumor going around that gillnets are not dangerous to vaquita porpoises and other cetaceans, but that is not the case. In fact, among the 36 marine animals documented to be trapped by gillnets in 2015, nine of which were cetaceans and only one was saved, a juvenile humpback whale.
In the case of the critically endangered vaquitas, there have been previously confirmed cases of the animals having died from entanglement in gillnets, but this was the first case in which the creature was still in the gillnet upon discovery.