Mexico says only 22 vaquita porpoises remain

Experts said Wednesday that only 22 vaquitas remain in the Gulf of California, where a grim, increasingly violent battle is playing out between emboldened fishermen and the last line of defense for the smallest and most endangered porpoise in the world.

Jorge Urban, a biology professor at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, said the 22 vaquitas were heard over a network of acoustic monitors. That was in fact a greater number than many had expected; some had estimated as few as 15 would remain in the gulf, also known as the Sea of Cortez, the only place in the world where the vaquita marina is found.

It may be a sign the vaquita is holding on, and what is keeping it alive is a thin line of defenders: Every night 22 volunteer crew members from ships operated by the environmentalist group Sea Shepherd go out to search the upper gulf for hidden gill nets that catch prized — but protected — totoaba fish and drown vaquitas.

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