Read our interview with the author here.
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 their small size and beguiling facial markings, vaquitas have been in decline for decades, dying by the hundreds in gillnets intended for commercially valuable fish, as well as for an endangered fish called totoaba. 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 vaquitas hang in the balance.
Author Brooke Bessesen takes us on a journey to Mexico's Upper Gulf region to uncover the story. She interviewed townspeople, fishermen, 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 followed a team of veterinary experts in a binational effort to capture the last remaining vaquitas and breed them in captivity – the best 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?
Chapter 1: The Dead Girl
Chapter 2: Resource Extraction
Chapter 3: Chasing a Myth
Chapter 4: Tangled Agendas
Chapter 5: Death, Drugs, and Accountability
Chapter 6: Pirates on Patrol
Chapter 7: Searching for Vaquita
Chapter 8: Hearing Is Believing
Chapter 9: Science in the Sea
Chapter 10: Witnessing Extinction
Chapter 11: Saving Bigfoot
Chapter 12: Sending Out an SOS
Chapter 13: Meet the Totoaba
Chapter 14: Last-Ditch Effort
Chapter 15: Hope Is a Life Raft (with a persistent leak)
Guide to Acronyms
Brooke Bessesen has worked with wildlife for over thirty years in animal rescue, veterinary medicine, and field biology. As a research fellow, she has conducted marine studies in Costa Rica and authored several scientific articles, including one naming a new taxon of sea snake. She has also written five children's books and a popular Arizona wildlife guide. As the founder of Authors for Earth Day, she directs an international coalition of authors who educate school kids about conservation.
"Passionate [...] a heartfelt and alarming tale."
– Publishers Weekly
"Gripping [...] a well-told and moving tale of environmentalism and conservation."
"If Rachel Carson had written a True Crime book, it might read like Brooke Bessesen's Vaquita. This fast-paced story of pirate fishermen, smugglers, killer cartels, dedicated scientists, whale warriors, and Navy dolphins is also a cautionary tale. It's no longer about saving the dolphins or the whales. It's about saving ourselves."
– David Helvarg, author of The Golden Shore: California's Love Affair with the Sea
"The story of the critically endangered vaquita desperately needs telling – and no one can tell it better than Brooke Bessesen. She writes with authority and heart of a conservation crisis that must be addressed now – lest we lose forever, on our watch, the world's smallest and most mysterious porpoise."
– Sy Montgomery, National Book Award Finalist for The Soul of an Octopus
"The vaquita's story is a morality tale for the Anthropocene. How many species will we let slip to their extinction in full knowledge of what is happening, and with the means to prevent their loss so readily available? This beautifully written book serves as a warning that half-measures and compromises in conservation have terrible consequences; opportunities missed may be missed forever."
– Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation, University of York, United Kingdom