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The World's Tiniest Dolphin Is Going Extinct Because Of This Weird 'Delicacy'

There are as few as 12 of these dolphins left on EARTH.

The world's tiniest kind of dolphin is also the world's most endangered: There are fewer than 30 vaquita porpoises left on the planet, and what's driving them to extinction is little more than a status symbol.

Fish bladders for sale in China
Wikimedia Commons

In China, there is a high demand for dried-up bladders — also known as "maws" — from totoaba fish, who live in Mexico's Gulf of California, where vaquita porpoises also live.

The bladders are considered a delicacy in the cuisine and traditional medicine of the Far East and, because of such high demand, these bladders are now worth more than gold, according to a new report from the Elephant Action League (EAL), a nonprofit organization that investigates wildlife crime networks. 

Totoaba fish bladders drying for sale in China
Wikimedia Commons

Gillnetting, the tactic fishermen use to catch the large totoaba fish, is the main factor driving the vaquita porpoises to extinction. Gillnets are types of fishing nets that stretch vertically across the water and catch anything in their path, entangling and slowly killing many types of animals, from the intended totoabas to sea turtles and critically endangered vaquita porpoises. 

Illegal gillnets
Elephant Action League

Trading totoaba bladders is illegal, and EAL has unearthed more information about the underground network of illegal traffickers that manages to bring these maws all the way from Mexico to China — the organization even managed to trace the entire trafficking chain.

Animals killed in gillnets
Sea animals killed in gillnets | Elephant Action League

"A so-called elder Chinese 'gang' out of Tijuana developed and ran the totoaba maw trade for a number of years, along with other illegal businesses, allegedly including money laundering and human smuggling," a release on the investigation said. "Smugglers transport totoaba maws to China primarily via air routes, always avoiding direct flights, and generally in checked luggage."

Vaquita porpoise killed in gillnet
A vaquita porpoise who died in a gillnet | Elephant Action League

Investigators hope that by exposing how the supply chain works, there might still be time to save the last remaining vaquita porpoises. Recent estimates suggest that there could even be as few as a dozen of these tiny dolphins left, so there's no time to waste in taking measures to save them. 

Totoaba maws being trafficked to China
Fresh totoaba bladders seized from traffickers in Mexico | Elephant Action League

"EAL believes that dismantling all the various networks associated with the totoaba black market is the best chance to end totoaba trafficking," the organization wrote. "This effort should begin with the middlemen — those Chinese nationals in Mexico who supply the market in China. Ultimately, though, the root of the problem, the demand, must also be destroyed."

You can help raise awareness for the vaquita porpoises by sharing this story. You can also donate to EAL to help support its investigations