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Vaquita Porpoise Nearly Extinct, Only 60 Left

Environmentalists warned that the population of Mexico’s vaquita marina, the world’s smallest porpoise, has dramatically dropped.

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Environmentalists warned Friday that Mexico's vaquita marina, the world's smallest porpoise, was close to extinction as the government reported that only 60 were now left.

The population has dramatically dropped despite the arrival of navy reinforcements in the upper Gulf of California in April 2015 to enforce a ban on fishing gillnets blamed for the vaquita's death.

The porpoise's population had already fallen to fewer than 100 in 2014, down from 200 in 2012, according to the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), a global group of scientists.

Mexico's environment ministry said in a statement that a joint census conduct with CIRVA, undertaken with acoustic and visual studies, between September and December estimated the latest population at "around 60."

Lonesome George And Animals At Risk: Photos

"The vaquita is at the edge of extinction," the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement, warning that 20 percent more have probably died in nets since January.

The vaquita's fate has been linked to another critically endangered sea creature, the totoaba, a fish that has been illegally caught for its swim bladder, which is dried and sold on the black market in China.

Poachers use illegal gillnets to catch the totoaba and the vaquita, a shy 1.5-meter-long (five-foot) cetacean with dark rings are the eyes, is believed to be the victims of bycatch.

Endangered Species Watch: Vaquita

President Enrique Pena Nieto imposed a two-year ban on gillnets in April 2015 and increased the vaquita protection area tenfold to 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles).

He deployed a navy patrol ship with a helipad, a dozen high-speed boats and two planes to enforce the prohibition.

Environment Minister Rafael Pacchiano said three vaquitas had been found dead and that protective measures needed to be reinforced, but federal authorities are convinced that the vaquita can still be saved.

He urged the local population to report illegal activities.

Porpoises Turn Sound Beams Into ‘Flashlights' To Hunt

The Mexican government agreed to compensate local fishermen in a $30 million a year program to give up gillnet fishing while they look for safer alternative nets.

But navy sailors told AFP last month that they were catching gillnets every day - three to 10 times the length of a football field, often ensnaring totoabas, dolphins and turtles.

Captain Oona Isabelle Layolle, of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said fishermen are still sneaking out at night to cast their nets.

These Animals Can Sleep With An Eye Open: Photo

Sea Shepherd, which has sent two boats to the region to help authorities catch gillnets, proposed to officials on Friday that the gillnet ban become permanent, Layolle told AFP.

Increasing the population is challenging because a mature female vaquita only gives birth once every two years, she said.

"There's still hope," she said.

The environment ministry said 600 nets were seized in the past year, while 77 people were detained.

Officials say fishermen sell the totoaba's swim bladders to smugglers who store them in border towns before sending them to the United States or shipping them directly to Asia in suitcases or through parcel services.

Each bladder fetches around $1,500-$1,800 in Mexico, rising to $5,000 in the United States and $10,000 to $20,000 apiece in Asia, according to US authorities.

Consumed in soup, maw is believed to cure a host of ailments, from arthritis to discomfort in pregnancy, and plump up skin due to its high collagen content.

Extinct Mammal Had An Extreme Underbite

WWF urged the governments of Mexico, the United States and China to take urgent measures and coordinate to stop the smuggling to totoaba bladders.

"In the end, if the vaquita goes extinct, the three countries will share the responsibility," the environmentalist group said.

The group said Mexico should ban all fishing in the vaquita habitat, compensate fishermen and deploy a newly created environmental police to the region.

"At WWF we are convinced that it is still possible to save the vaquita, but this is clearly its last chance," said WWF's Mexico director, Omar Vidal.

Shown are two of the fewer than 100 vaquitas remaining in the world.

Lonesome George - the Last Pinta Island Tortoise

June 25, 2012 -

Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant tortoise and celebrated symbol of conservation efforts has died. George passed away in the Galapagos Islands with no known offspring after several attempts at breeding George with other similar tortoise species, according to AFP. Lonesome George's longtime caretaker, Fausto Llerena, found the giant tortoise's remains stretched out in the "direction of his watering hole" on Santa Cruz Island, according to AFP. Estimated to be more than 100 years old, the creature's cause of death remains unclear and a necropsy is planned. Lonesome George was discovered on Pinta Island in 1972 at a time when giant tortoises of his type, Geochelone nigra abingdoni, were already believed to be extinct, according to AFP. The following is a look at other at risk animals in the world.

NEWS: Extinct' Giant Tortoise Found on Remote Island

Animals at Risk Since the Endangered Species Act's passage 33 years ago, 1,800 species have been listed as endangered and nine have become extinct. ARKive, a collection of the world's best wildlife films and photographs, gathered together a list of the most at risk animals. The Tiger has undergone large population declines across Cambodia and the rest of Asia, according to ARKive.

Blue Whale (Endangered) Once hunted nearly to extinction, the blue whale is the largest animal to have ever lived, growing to around 27 meters (88.5 feet) long and weighing up to an astounding 120 tons. It also produces the loudest call of any animal on Earth. Although hunting of the blue whale was banned in 1966, the recovery of this magnificent marine mammal has been exceptionally slow.

Giant Panda (Endangered) The giant panda is universally admired for its appealing markings and seemingly gentle demeanor. A charismatic conservation icon, the giant panda is threatened by habitat loss, with large areas of China’s natural forest being cleared for agriculture, timber and firewood to meet the needs of the large and growing human population.

Tiger (Endangered) The tiger is one of the most emblematic symbols of conservation today, and its distinctively patterned coat and fearsome reputation make this species instantly recognizable. However, the tiger is facing the grave threat of extinction due to illegal poaching and habitat loss.

Sumatran Orangutan (Critically endangered) The name of the Sumatran orangutan means "person of the forest." The biggest threat to the Sumatran orangutan is the loss of its forest habitat, with around 80 percent of the forest on Sumatra vanishing in recent years due to illegal logging, gold mining and conversion to permanent agriculture, in particular, palm oil plantations.

Black Rhinoceros (Critically endangered) Contrary to its name, the black rhinoceros is actually grey in color. It was hunted almost to the brink of extinction for its impressive horn, which can grow up to 60 cm (23.6 inches), largely due to the demand for horn in Chinese traditional medicine and for traditional dagger handles in Yemen.

Philippine Eagle (Critically endangered) The striking Philippine eagle is the world's largest eagle and also one of the world’s most threatened raptors. The destruction of its habitat is the main cause of its dramatic decline, with vast tracts of tropical forests in the Philippines having been cleared for commercial development and for shifting cultivation.

Kakapo (Critically endangered) As the world’s only flightless parrot, the kakapo is a truly unique bird which is threatened by introduced species in its native home of New Zealand. Conservationists have taken the drastic measure of removing all surviving kakapo to predator-free islands, so far averting the extinction of this remarkable bird.

Hawksbill Turtle (Critically endangered) The hawksbill turtle possesses a beautiful marbled shell, which has been exploited for thousands of years as the sole source of commercial tortoiseshell. Illegal demand for its shell, and for its eggs, meat and even stuffed juveniles as exotic gifts, have led to the dramatic decline of this species over the last century. A further threat to the hawksbill turtle is global climate change.

Lemur Leaf Frog (Critically endangered) The lemur leaf frog is specially adapted for a life in the trees with adhesive pads on its toes. Eggs are laid on leaf surfaces and when hatched the larvae are washed off or fall into water below. This nocturnal tree frog was once considered to be a reasonably common species in Costa Rica, but it is threatened by the loss of its forest habitat and most populations in Costa Rica have recently disappeared.

Scalloped Hammerhead (Endangered) Forming impressively large schools, female scalloped hammerheads gather in the Gulf of California during the day, around underwater mountains known as seamounts, where they perform a wide range of behaviors yet to be understood. The scalloped hammerhead is under threat due to fishing pressures and in particular is a victim of shark finning. ANIMAL PLANET: Endangered Species Guide