Leonardo DiCaprio Gets Mexican President To Commit To Saving Rare Porpoise

Enrique Peña Nieto says his country is making a "major effort" to save the vaquita.
An image of a dead vaquita from 1992. The elusive porpoise is rarely seen in the wild, and scientists say there could be as few as 30 left on the planet.
An image of a dead vaquita from 1992. The elusive porpoise is rarely seen in the wild, and scientists say there could be as few as 30 left on the planet.
Ho New / Reuters

Leonardo DiCaprio used his star power to issue a plea on Twitter with the World Wildlife Fund to save the world’s rarest porpoise from extinction. And it appears Mexico’s president was listening.

Enrique Peña Nieto responded on Thursday to the actor’s missive about the vaquita ― a critically endangered mammal that only lives in a small region in the Gulf of California. In a series of tweets, the president said his country was focusing “all its efforts to prevent the extinction of the species.”

Peña Nieto’s reply represents one of the most high profile pledges to save the animal, which has seen population numbers plummet from about 60 to just 30 in the past year.

The WWF launched a campaign this week to urge the Mexican president to address the increasingly dire threat faced by the vaquita, saying there was still time to save the few that remain.

Researchers have been scrambling to save the elusive porpoise, which has seen populations fall by 90 percent in the past five years.

The animals are continually threatened by illegal fishing operations and often find themselves trapped in gill nets used to catch a critically endangered fish called the totoaba. The totoaba’s swim bladder is considered a delicacy in parts of Asia, where it’s known as “aquatic cocaine” that can sell for as much as $10,000 a kilogram.

The Mexican government has thrown vast support behind a research group called CIRVA, or the Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, in an effort to halt the fisheries, including a two-year emergency ban on gill nets in the area. However, that ban expired in April.

Scientists with the agency have also proposed a dramatic plan to capture and breed several vaquitas in an attempt to stave off their extinction. The only problem: No one has ever caught a vaquita alive.

Peña Nieto noted on Twitter that the government has more than “300 marines, 15 boats and unmanned aircraft systems” watching over the vaquita’s habitat, and protection zones have expanded to “three times larger than the original.”

But the conservation group Sea Shepherd, which has been patrolling the region with the support of Mexico, has continued to recover illegal totoaba nets throughout the Gulf of California. The group found the body of yet another dead vaquita in March.

“Witnessing one of the few remaining vaquita in the entire world dead and floating in front of our ship was devastating to my crew,” Luisa Albera, captain of Sea Shepherd’s ‘Farley Mowat,’ wrote at the time.

Despite the ongoing threats faced by the porpoise, Peña Nieto said the Mexican government was making “a major effort” to save them, and doing “what should have been done decades ago.”

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