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Fewer than 30 vaquita are left in Mexico's Upper Gulf of California

A petition asks Mexico's President for a full ban on gill nets

(CNN) —  

Leave it to Leonardo DiCaprio to remind us that social media can serve a porpoise.

The vaquita porpoise, to be precise.

The actor and activist used Twitter and Instagram this week to get his millions of followers to sign a petition asking Mexico’s President to take immediate action to protect the endangered vaquita porpoise, native to that country’s Gulf of California.

His plea apparently got the attention of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who on Thursday night fired off a series of tweets – in English – defending his government’s efforts to save the vaquita.

“Mexico has focused all its efforts to prevent the extinction of this species,” Peña Nieto said in one of seven tweets published on his verified account.

There may be fewer than 30 vaquita left in the Upper Gulf of California, the only place on Earth where the tiny porpoise live, according to the World Wildlife Fund, the organization behind the petition that DiCaprio cited.

Illegal fishing and lax enforcement of existing fishing laws have contributed to the rapid decline of the vaquita, according a recent report by the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita.

The estimated vaquita population dropped from about 60 to 30 between 2015 and 2016, and the species is in danger of becoming extinct in a few years, the report says.

The World Wildlife Fund petition calls on Peña Nieto to establish a permanent ban on gill nets. Vaquitas are not fished directly, but get caught in gill nets that fishermen use to illegally catch totoaba, a large fish popular in Asia.

The Mexican President said his administration is making an effort that should have been started decades ago. His tweets pointed out the two-year ban on gill nets in the area, and the presence of 300 marines who patrol the area for illegal fishing.

DiCaprio and the WWF say it’s not enough.

While Peña Nieto’s response to DiCaprio was unusual for the number of tweets he dedicated to the issue and the fact that it was in English, the Mexican President has been outspoken on the efforts to save the vaquita in the past.