In just the last two years, the population of the endangered vaquita marina, which is the smallest and rarest porpoise in the world, was cut in half to just 97 specimens.
Their huge population drop is due largely to the demand for the totoaba — an endangered fish that shares a habitat with the vaquita in the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California). Totoaba swim bladder is incredibly valuable on the illegal Chinese fish market, and poachers use a common technique called gillnetting to obtain them.
But this fishing method has serious consequences for vaquita, who can become lethally ensnared in the gillnets.
In an effort to protect the vaquita from illegal poaching, Mexico's environmental protection agency (PROFEPA) has begun testing unmanned drones, which they plan to deploy for aerial patrol of the vaquita's habitat.
These drones will be part of a massive plan to expand the ban on gillnet fishing in the gulf to cover nearly the entire vaquita range. Last year, Mexican authorities took seventeen people into custody for poaching totoabas. Hopefully the drone program will deter illegal gillnetting in the vaquita habitat, while allowing authorities a faster and more effective response to poachers.
Learn more about what's being done to save the vaquita from extinction: