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Vaquita porpoise nearing extinction
01:53 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

After years of pressure on the Mexican government, a permanent ban on gillnet fishing has gone into effect in a bid to save a critically endangered species of porpoise.

Experts estimate there are 30 vaquita porpoises remaining, and all of them live exclusively in the waters of the Gulf of California.

The number of vaquita porpoises is down to 30, experts estimate.

Banning the killer

The now banned nets, known as gill nets, are designed to catch the giant totoaba fish, whose swim bladder is considered a delicacy in China and sold for more than $4,500 per pound.

The similar size of the two species means gill nets invariably ensnare the endangered porpoises as well.

A vaquita trapped and killed in a gill net.

The World Wildlife Fund released a statement praising the Mexican government’s decision to move beyond a temporary ban.

“This is a fantastic and encouraging step forward in the path to saving the vaquita, provided the ban is fully enforced and accompanied by fishing alternatives for local communities,” the statement said.

Dolphin saviors?

A breeding program was also announced by the Mexican government and could involve the use of US Navy-trained dolphins.

“Vaquitas will be located using boats, and, at the request of the Mexican government, will receive help from US Navy Marine Mammal Program,” according to the National Marine Mammal Foundation.

The US Navy may use dolphins to help.

The idea is to have the dolphins use echolocation to find the last remaining vaquita porpoises and then corral them into a safe breeding ground.

CNN has reached out to the US Navy but it is yet to confirm the program.

The WWF says it is wary of any program that removes the porpoises from their natural habitat.

“Any effort to capture and provide sanctuary for the remaining vaquita and breed them in captivity must be explicitly linked to a plan to return vaquita to the wild once their habitat is secure,” it said.

Hollywood champions

The gill net ban is part of an agreement between the foundations of actor Leonardo DiCaprio and businessman Carlos Slim, and the Mexican government.

DiCaprio posted his support for the new measures on Instagram, saying, “Great news and a huge step forward as the permanent ban on gill nets has been made official. Thank you to all who helped make this happen, including President (Enrique) Peña Nieto.”