via Brandt Witt / Twitter

via Brandt Witt / Twitter

The vaquita is an innocent bystander that may go extinct as Mexican cartels battle for the "cocaine of the sea."

Less than two dozen of the smallest porpoise on Earth exist due to gill net fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico trying to catch the endangered totoaba fish. Totoaba are falsely believed to have medicinal purposes and China and can be sold for up to $100,000.

Cartels in Mexico purchase totoaba from poachers and then sell them to Chinese traders.

In 2016, the Mexican government banned gill nets from most fisheries in the Gulf of California, but they haven't done enough to hold the poachers accountable.

The gill nets used by the totoaba poachers are anchored to the sea floor floor so when the vaquita are snared they are unable to get to the surface to breathe. "These nets are anchored to the seafloor and so they can't pull those nets up to the surface to take a breath," Cynthia Smith, executive director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation told "Nightline." "So, a marine mammal or a sea turtle — they're going to drown really quickly."

via NOAA / Wikimedia Commons

Today, less than two dozen vaquita live in the gulf. The species is experiencing an 8% to 19% decline per year.

The vaquita or "sea cow" in Spanish, is the smallest species of porpoise on earth at about five feet in length and they live for around 20 years. It has a distinct body shape and a dark eye rings and lip patches on its face that resemble goth makeup.

They tend to live in groups of three and live on small fish and squid.

According to ABC News, the vaquita may only last for another six to eight months.

While the odds are stacked against the vaquita, a new documentary "Sea of Shadows" chronicles the two-front war being fought for its survival. The film chronicles the work of conservationist Andrea Crosta as he fights the cartels and traffickers on land and Smith's battle to rehabilitate them at sea.

"From the outside it looks like an environmental story, right? But if you dive in, you understand the role of transnational crime, the narco trafficking, working with Chinese traffickers," Crosta said. "They form what we call Totoaba cartels because they work in the same way, with the incredible power to corrupt, all over the place."

For more information on how you can help fight to save the vaquita from extinction, please visit vivavaquita.com.

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