Brooke Bessesen / Island Press / 320 pages

In March, scientists announced that no more than 22 vaquita porpoises likely remain in the world. Vaquita are being rapidly driven to extinction—entangled and drowned by gillnets illegally set in Mexico’s Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez). Without an end to gillnet fishing, the vaquita could soon be extinct.

In Vaquita: Science, Politics and Crime in the Sea of Cortez, author Brooke Bessesen elucidates the complex story of the vaquita. With more than 30 years’ experience in animal rescue and marine fieldwork, Bessesen writes with both authority and heart, bringing the reader into the center of the storm that has been the decades-long effort to save the vaquita. She thoroughly researched her subject, even embedding herself for weeks on end in the Gulf’s local communities.

The book gives voice to the fishers, scientists, and conservationists who have been grappling with the challenges associated with protecting the vaquita. Bessesen describes the frustrating, ineffective reactions of successive Mexican governments to the porpoise’s plight, especially the failure to completely and effectively ban gillnet fishing gear.

Vaquita is fast-paced, at times reading like a crime thriller—complete with villainous drug cartels, wildlife traffickers, and government corruption. The book is an important cautionary tale. As Bessesen notes, we need to learn from the vaquita before yet another marine mammal species faces the same fate.