Vaquita – Last Chance for the Desert Porpoise

Report: Vaquita population declines to less than 100

Recommends emergency regulations to be established

Report: Vaquita population declines to less than 100
August 3rd, 2014 by

New report from international vaquita recovery team (CIRVA) on the Vaquita porpoise in Mexico estimates the population to be fewer than 100 individuals and are in imminent danger of extinction. The report strongly recommends that the Government of Mexico enact emergency regulations establishing a gillnet exclusion zone covering the full range of the vaquita.

CIRVA (COMITÉ INTERNACIONAL PARA LA RECUPERACIÓN DE LA VAQUITA) is an international team of scientists, researchers, conservation groups, and local stakeholders that meet every two years. Today, they released a report on the updated status of the Vaquita in the Upper Gulf of California.

The following is an excerpt from the Executive Summary summarising the situation:

Mexico’s Porpoise Nears Extinction: a simple statement on the situation now

    The vaquita, a small porpoise found only in the upper Gulf of California in Mexico, is one of the world’s most endangered mammals. In the past three years, half of the vaquita population has been killed in fishing nets, many of them set illegally to capture an endangered fish. Fewer than 100 vaquitas remain and the species will soon be extinct unless drastic steps are taken immediately.

    The species was described in 1958 and has the smallest range of any whale, dolphin or porpoise. Vaquitas live in an area used intensively by fishermen from three small towns along the shores of the northern Gulf of California.

    Vaquitas die after becoming entangled in gillnets. Gillnets are designed to entangle fish and shrimps but also capture other animals, including porpoises, dolphins and turtles. The Government of Mexico has been pursuing a conservation plan for the species that includes a refuge, where all commercial fishing (including with gillnets) is banned, and a program to encourage fishermen to switch to fishing gear that does not threaten vaquitas. Over the past five years, the Government invested more than $30 million (U.S.) in these efforts that slowed, but did not stop, the decline of the species. Scientists have warned for almost twenty years that anything short of eliminating gillnets would be insufficient to prevent the extinction of the vaquita.

    A new, illegal fishery has emerged in the past few years that is an even greater menace to the vaquita. Many vaquitas have died in nets set for totoaba, a giant fish that can reach 2 m in length and 100 kg in weight. This endangered fish is prized for its swim bladder, which is exported to China where it is used as an ingredient in soup and believed to have medicinal value. Thousands of swim bladders are dried and smuggled out of Mexico, often through the United States. The remainder of the fish is left to rot on the beach. Fishermen receive up to $8,500 for each kilogram of totoaba swim bladder, equivalent to half a year’s income from legal fishing activities.

    At a meeting in July 2014, an international recovery team advising the Government of Mexico warned that time is rapidly running out. Unless drastic action is taken immediately, the vaquita will be lost. Mexican authorities must eliminate the gillnet fisheries that threaten the vaquita throughout the entire range of the species and enforce this gillnet ban. The Government must also stop illegal fishing for totoaba. The Governments of the United States and China must help Mexico eliminate the illegal trade in totoaba products. Unless these steps are taken immediately, the vaquita will follow the Yangtze River dolphin into oblivion and become the second species of whale, dolphin or porpoise driven to extinction in human history.

The report recommends a total ban on gillnet fishing in the figure below.

Figure 2 - 2014 CIRVA Vaquita Report

Figure 2 – 2014 CIRVA Vaquita Report

The Mexican presidential commission on vaquita conservation is meeting on 31 July and 1 August to consider CIRVA’s findings, and an update news item will be posted here in the near future.

Watch our latest short film on the Vaquita (2013) and the alternative fishing gear developments.


About Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson has written 34 post in this blog.

A filmmaker, photographer and digital producer based in Melbourne Australia.


29 Aug 2014 by SmilingMola

Hi Chris, can you tell me if there are any local elementary schools involved with getting the word out about the Vaquita?

15 Sep 2014 by May

When fishing-free zones are set up, sea life tends to bounce back, more quickly and abundantly than before. In addition, this along with tourism should provide jobs for the local communities. I am worried though that the “quick payday” is what’s creating a additional obstacle in enforcement.


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