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Leonardo DiCaprio Wants to Save Endangered Vaquita Porpoises

The vaquita porpoise (vaquita marina in Spanish), found only in Mexico’s Gulf of California, is the most endangered marine mammal on the planet – and Leonardo DiCaprio wants to save the species.

The actor and environmental activist shared a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) petition on his social media accounts Wednesday, calling on Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to step up conservation efforts.  

Take Action: Sign the Petition to Protect the World’s Oceans

“Unsuitable and illegal fishing practices have caused a dramatic decline in the vaquita’s population,” DiCaprio wrote in an Instagram post. “Fewer than 30 vaquita may be left in the wild and without immediate action, they face imminent extinction.”

DiCaprio’s conservationist plea went out to his 17.5 million Twitter followers, 17 million Facebook followers, and 16.6 million Instagram followers.

The message also reached President Peña Nieto, who responded with a series of tweets, detailing the work his administration is doing to protect the critically-endangered species.

Vaquitas aren’t the targets of the illegal fishing practices that DiCaprio referenced, but rather the collateral damage of them. They are caught in gillnets during the illegal fishing of Totoaba fish, another endangered species that shares the same waters. Totoaba bladders are used in China for homeopathic medicine, and can go for $10,000 per kilogram, the New York Times reports.

Gillnets are large vertical nets that hang in the water. They vary in size depending on what the fisherman wants to catch, but are not specialized by species. As a result, gillnets (sometimes referred to as “walls of death”) often catch marine animals – like vaquitas – causing them to drown.  

As Peña Nieto indicated in his tweets, the Mexican government made gillnets illegal and deployed Navy ships to enforce the ban. They also launched a drone surveillance system to prevent poaching. But vaquitas are still dying.

Last February, Miley Cyrus made a similar plea to raise awareness about the plight of vaquitas, although she didn’t call on any world leaders to do something about it.

#SaveTheVaquita !!!!! Little angel babies! ❤️ @happyhippiefdn

A post shared by Miley Cyrus (@mileycyrus) on

Some scientists believe there could be as few as two or three vaquitas left in the wild, though most put estimates around 30. All that is known is how many are killed every year.

“From the summer of 2015 to 2016 we went from 60 to 30,” Barbara Taylor, a marine biologist with the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, told a PBS affiliate in San Diego. “We expect we’ll probably lose another half of the population. We’ll probably be down to 10-15 animals.”

“We hope we’re luckier than that,” she said.

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There were around 600 vaquitas in the region 20 years ago, the Guardian reports.

Taylor’s team is executing a $4 million binational plan to revive the vaquita population by using US Navy dolphins for acoustic monitoring to find vaquitas and bring them into captivity. Furthermore, by sequencing the vaquitas’ genome, scientists could potentially breed the species in captivity.

The WWF petition acknowledges Nieto as a “champion of the species in the past,” but urges further action, including better enforcement of a permanent gillnet ban and stopping the Mexico-China Totoaba trade.

“The vaquita will be extinct, possibly by 2018, if fishery bycatch is not eliminated immediately,” the WWF website says.

Thanks to WWF, DiCaprio, and Cyrus before him, the word is out about the world’s smallest porpoise.

The next step is taking action to save them.