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Two endangered vaquita swim in the gulf of Mexico. Photo: Paula Olson, NOAA Contractor; taken under permit: Oficio No. DR/488/08

On Wednesday, four U.S. Navy-trained bottlenose dolphins will sweep through the Gulf of Mexico with one purpose: to find and capture a tiny porpoise called the vaquita, which is the most endangered marine mammal alive. The ultimate goal is to capture the roughly 30 remaining vaquita, and keep them safe until they can be re-released.

Why it matters: This is a last-ditch effort to save the iconic species and one that isn't undertaken lightly because some species of porpoise die when they're captured. But Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, who coordinates Mexico's marine mammal research and conservation program, tells Axios it's unlikely the vaquita will survive another illegal fishing season without help.

The threats: Most vaquita deaths are caused by the illegal totoaba fishing industry. Although fishing for totoaba is illegal, trade in the fish's swim baldder "is worth more than cocaine," says Rojas-Bracho. Totoaba are roughly the same size as vaquita, and the porpoises are easily caught in their nets. Derelict, or 'ghost gear' is also a problem: abandoned nets still drift in the sea, entangling animals as they pass.

But, but, but: "But we don't know if it'll work. No one's ever tried to capture a vaquita before," Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, tells Axios.

The process will be slow. First, they'll catch just one. If the porpoise seems healthy, they'll observe it for 48 hours in a seapen. If it does OK in captivity, they'll methodically catch the rest. The budget only lasts a month, though, and soon the seas will be too rough to catch porpoises so the effort may take more than a year.

What's next: "The real conservation comes when you release the animals," says Rojas-Bracho. "This is just buying us time." That time is needed to end the illegal fishery, find alternative forms of income for the fishermen, and remove ghost nets from the water.

Go deeper

Updated 9 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Senate action on stimulus bill continues as Dems reach deal on jobless aid

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democratic leaders struck an agreement with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) on emergency unemployment insurance late Friday, clearing the way for Senate action on President Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package to resume after an hours-long delay.

The state of play: The Senate will now work through votes on a series of amendments that are expected to last overnight into early Saturday morning.

Capitol review panel recommends more police, mobile fencing

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A panel appointed by Congress to review security measures at the Capitol is recommending several changes, including mobile fencing and a bigger Capitol police force, to safeguard the area after a riotous mob breached the building on Jan. 6.

Why it matters: Law enforcement officials have warned there could be new plots to attack the area and target lawmakers, including during a speech President Biden is expected to give to a joint session of Congress.

Financial fallout from the Texas deep freeze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Texas has thawed out after an Arctic freeze last month threw the state into a power crisis. But the financial turmoil from power grid shock is just starting to take shape.

Why it matters: In total, electricity companies are billions of dollars short on the post-storm payments they now owe to the state's grid operator. There's no clear path for how they will pay — something being watched closely across the country as extreme weather events become more common.