256 pages, 6 x 9
10 photos, 2 illustrations
Release Date:11 Sep 2018


Science, Politics, and Crime in the Sea of Cortez

Island Press

In 2006, vaquita, a diminutive porpoise making its home in the Upper Gulf of California, inherited the dubious title of world’s most endangered marine mammal. Nicknamed “panda of the sea” for its small size and beguiling facial markings, vaquita have been in decline for decades, dying by the hundreds in gillnets intended for the commercially valuable totoaba, a fish. When international crime cartels discovered a lucrative trade in the swim bladders of totoaba, illegal gillnetting went rampant, and now the lives of the few remaining vaquita hang in the balance.

Author Brooke Bessesen takes us on a journey to Mexico’s Upper Gulf region to uncover the story. Asking hard questions, she interviewed townspeople, fishermen, politicians, scientists, and activists, teasing apart a complex story filled with villains and heroes, a story whose outcome is unclear. When diplomatic and political efforts to save the little porpoise failed, Bessesen traveled with a team of veterinary experts in a binational effort to capture the remaining ten vaquita and breed them in captivity—the only hope for their survival. In this fast‑paced, soul‑searing tale, she learned that there are no easy answers when extinction is profitable.

Whether the rescue attempt succeeds or fails, the world must ask itself hard questions. When vaquita and the totoaba are gone, the black market will turn to the next vulnerable species. What will we do then?

passionate… [a] heartfelt and alarming tale. Publishers Weekly
Vaquita is a lucid, informed, and gripping account of a species that will soon be lost in the absence of effective actions… Bessesen approaches the plight of the vaquita with the thoroughness and inquisitiveness of a scientist and the passion of an environmentalist. She has written a must-read for anyone keen to understand the realities of protecting biodiversity. In doing so, she fulfilled a promise she made to a small female vaquita that died from entanglement in a gillnet: 'I will tell your story…' Science magazine
Intrepid conservation detective story. Nature


Goodbye Baiji


1 The Dead Girl

2 Resource Extraction

3 Chasing a Myth

4 Tangled Agendas

5 Death, Drugs, and Accountability

6 Pirates on Patrol

7 Searching for Vaquita

8 Hearing Is Believing

9 Science in the Sea

10 Witnessing Extinction

11 Saving Bigfoot

12 Sending Out and SOS

13 Meet the Totoaba

14 Last‑Ditch Effort

15 Hope is a Life Raft (with a persistent leak)


Notes; Selected Bibliography; Index

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