An international scientific expedition has spotted up to 25 individual specimens of a near-extinct small porpoise in Mexico's Gulf of California, amid efforts to save the critically endangered vaquita marina.
The environment ministry said Monday that the rare sightings of the world's smallest porpoise were made during the first 20 days of the Vaquita Expedition 2015, which started on September 26.
The scientists cautioned, however, that some of porpoises may have been counted more than once as the same may have been seen several times.
The mission seeks to obtain a precise estimate of the abundance of vaquitas in the region since the government announced in April a ban on gillnets blamed for nearly decimating the specie.
The 13-member expedition aboard the Ocean Starr ship includes scientists from Mexico, the United States, Britain and Germany using six huge binoculars called "big eyes."
"There is no doubt that we have in front of us an opportunity to avoid the disappearance of a species that Mexico shares with the world," President Enrique Pena Nieto said in his official blog.
A report by a panel of international scientists warned last year that there were fewer than 100 vaquitas remaining, down from 200 specimens in 2012, and the animal could vanish by 2018.
The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita blamed the destruction of the porpoise on gillnets, which fishermen have used to actually catch another endangered specie, the totoaba -- a giant fish that is prized in China for its swim bladder.
In April, Pena Nieto greatly expanded the protected area for the vaquita in the Gulf of California and increased navy patrols to curb the use of gillnets.