January 29, 2019 / Modified jan 29, 2019 3:55 p.m.

Documentary On Plight of Endangered Porpoise Heading to Sundance

The documentary follows the plight of the Sea of Cortez's vaquita marina, which is on the verge of extinction.

Vaquita sea shepherd Crew members from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ship in the Sea of Cortez are featured in the documentary "Sea of Shadows." (PHOTO: Kendal Blust/Fronteras Desk)

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A documentary about illegal poaching that’s threatening to wipe out the world’s most endangered marine mammal, found in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, has made its way to the Sundance Film Festival this year.

With fewer than 30 left, the small porpoise known as the vaquita marina is on the verge of extinction.

Vaquita shepherd 2 VIEW LARGER The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's patrol ship in the Sea of Cortez is featured in the documentary "Sea of Shadows," showing now at the Sundance Film Festival. (PHOTO: Kendal Blust/Fronteras Desk)

The new documentary “Sea of Shadows” delves into the threats against the little porpoise by looking at the world of illegal totoaba fish poaching in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. The huge fish is known as the “cocaine of the sea” because its swim bladder is so lucrative on the black market in China.

But the nets used to catch the totoaba fish are considered the leading threat to the vaquita marina.

The documentary explores the world of Mexican drug cartels and Chinese smugglers who traffic the totoaba swim bladders. And the efforts of scientists, conservationists and fishermen who are fighting protect the vaquita marina.

The film, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Richard Ladkani, is competing in the Sundance World Documentary category.


Learn more about the vaquita in this AZPM interview with author Brooke Bessesen.

Fronteras Desk
This story is from the Fronteras Desk, a collaboration of Southwestern public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Fronteras Desk.
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