An army of drones will soon become around-the-clock bodyguards for one of our rarest animals.
The vaquita, the world's smallest and most endangered porpoise with just 97 individuals remaining, faces an enormous threat from entanglement in the long gillnets that fishers illegally use where they swim in the Sea of Cortez. Called the "little cow of the sea," the species, known for its cute facial features, has been teetering on the brink of extinction in recent years.
But now, Alejandro del Mazo, an assistant prosecutor with Mexico's environmental protection agency, announced the new drone plan to help bring the tiny mammal back from the brink. The Associated Press reports that the drones are currently being tested by the Mexican Navy.
"We are considering the use of advanced technology, because drones would allow us to have permanent aerial patrols in the area and be able to react much more efficiently and quickly," del Mazo said.
From hundreds of feet in the air, the drones will be able to spy illegal fishing for a fish called totoaba, a species listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The animals' swim bladders are prized as a delicacy in China; just one fish can rake in $10,000 in Asia.
The drone brigade comes after the announcement of a $37 million plan to ban gillnet fishing in the upper Sea of Cortez last month. Authorities hope that with better enforcement measures, the remaining 25 breeding members will produce offspring in the next two years.