Vaquita – Last Chance for the Desert Porpoise

Meet the scientists

Meet the people studying the vaquita porpoise.

Meet the scientists


Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho

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    Dr. Rojas-Bracho is Coordinator of Marine Mammal Research and Conservation at the National Institute of Ecology, in Ensenda, BC., Mexico. He strongly believes that it is through international cooperation that endangered species have the best chance for recovery. He has promoted the integration of researchers from different countries into joint researches focused on understanding better the marine mammals of Mexico. He has combined demographic and genetic aspects to evaluate the vaquita risk factors, as well as to estimate the population size and habitat use. These works have been done jointly with researchers from USA, Canada and Europe. He was one of the two cruise leaders in the joint cruise with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) de La Jolla, California, EUA, to estimate the vaquita population size in 1997. Among the conservation actions to recover the vaquita, he established and Chairs the vaquita recovery team (International Committee for the Recovery of Vaquita/Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita; CIRVA). This Committee is constituted by well known marine mammal specialist from Canada, Norway, United Kingdom the US and Mexico. The works by CIRVA have been recognized by different scientific bodies.

    He has authored or co-authored over 40 scholarly articles, book chapters and technical reports on marine mammals. He has been invited to chair, participate and be part of different international committees, workshops and working groups related to the management and conservation of marine mammals, among them International Whaling Commission (IWC)’s Scientific Committee Environmental Concerns Standing Working Group; he is a member of IUCN’s Cetacean Specialist Group, The Red List Authority, and the Committee of Scientific Advisors and Nominations and Elections Committee from the Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM). He is currently Mexico’s Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission.

Armando Jaramillo

    Dr. Armando Jaramillo has a Master and Doctoral degrees in coastal oceanography by the Autonomous University of Baja California, Mexico. He has over 20 years of experience researching several aspects of marine mammal’s ecology. Its research experience includes the study of population dynamics through modeling, since abundance estimates using mark-recapture and distance sampling models, to fitting of population models using traditional and Bayesian methods. For 13 years, Dr. Jaramillo has been studying the ecology and population trends of vaquita, using as part of field methods passive acoustic techniques to detect groups. In fact a ten years series of these data were the basis to estimate the negative population trend underwent by vaquita population recently that triggered the vaquita conservation action plans by the Mexican Government.

United States

Barb Talyor

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    In addition to leading the Marine Mammal Genetics Group, Barb actively participates in the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group and the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission. Her first ten years in marine mammal research were spent studying harbor porpoise, harbor seals, bowhead whales and humpback whales, mostly in Alaska. Since receiving her PhD at the University of California, San Diego, her research has shifted from a field orientation to a quantitative approach. Research interests include genetics focusing on identifying units to conserve; population dynamics of small populations; conservation biology; demography; population viability analysis and decision analysis.
    Current projects:

    • Participating in vaquita conservation science projects
    • Performance testing of quantitative listing criteria for the Endangered Species Act
    • Developing guidelines for treating uncertainty in listing species under the IUCN Redlist
    • Testing available genetic methods for how they perform at addressing conservation questions

Jay Barlow

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    Jay Barlow received a B.S. in Biology from Arizona State University in 1976 and a PhD in Biological Oceanography from UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1982. Currently is a program leader at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California and is an Adjunct Professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. His research on human impacts on marine mammals includes studies along the U.S. west coast and in Hawaii, Mexico, Colombia, Central America and China. He has authored or coauthored over 70 professional papers and 50 technical reports. He is a member of IUCN’s Cetacean Specialist Group and Mexico’s vaquita recovery team. Dr. Barlow received the Department of Commerce Gold Medal for developing a new management paradigm for marine mammal bycatch in the U.S. His research interests include abundance estimation, trend monitoring, stock assessment, population modeling, cetacean acoustics and habitat modeling.

Tim Gerrodette

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    Tim’s main scientific interests are in the assessment, management and conservation of marine life. A central part of assessment is a well-designed monitoring program that is able to detect changes in abundance over time. There is often a great deal of uncertainty associated with such assessments, and an important task of wise management is to manage effectively and conservatively in the face of this uncertainty. The Precautionary Principle gives guidance about how to manage in the face of uncertainty.

Sarah Mesnick

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    Sarah Mesnick is a behavioral ecologist at NOAA Fisheries Service’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, and is a co-founder of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U.C. San Diego. She is involved in research on the behavior and genetic structure of marine mammal populations. Recently, she and colleagues have focused on using acoustics to identify global populations of blue whales and the population and social structure of sperm whales in the North Pacific using genetic markers. Her research on human impacts on marine mammals includes investigations of the indirect impacts of the tuna purse seine fishery on dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. She has worked in the Gulf of California for over 20 years on studies of the evolution, biodiversity and conservation of fishes and marine mammals. She is interested in the foraging and social behavior of vaquita and the role of incentives and women’s cooperatives in vaquita conservation.

Robert Pitman

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    Bob has been studying seabirds and cetaceans since 1976, and marine turtles and flyingfish since 1986. His interests include biogeography, foraging ecology, evolutionary biology, and general ecology. He spends between 6 and 8 months each year in the field, mostly at sea in pelagic ecosystems, on research vessels of all kinds. These have taken him to the tropical Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans, Antarctic waters, and the Bering Sea. Currently Bob’s main interest is Antarctic killer whale ecology and systematics.

United Kingdom:

Jonathan Gordon

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    Jonathan Gordon is a marine mammal biologist based at the Sea Mammal Research Unit in Scotland, UK and he also runs EcologicUK as consultancy specialising in applied aspects of marine mammals and acoustics. Much of his early research involved working sperm whales in the open ocean from small independent research platforms (often sailing boats). Passive acoustic monitoring, the ability to detect and track sperm whales by listening to their vocalisations, proved to be a crucial tool in these studies. This experience lead to a more general interest in practical applications of acoustics to marine mammal conservation including developing improved tools for monitoring and population assessment and studying in the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals.

    PAM has proven incredibly useful in studying the largest of the odontocetes, the sperm whale. JG went on to pioneer (with others) the development of passive acoustic methods for monitoring other groups including the smallest of odontocetes, the porpoises and the smallest of all, the vauquita. Much of this work took place in UK where the harbour porpoise is the commonest inshore cetacean, but, like vaquita, is extremely difficult to detect visaully. Once effective methods using towed hydrophones had been developed for harbour porpoise it was an obvious next step to apply these to the world’s most critically endangered small cetacean, the vaquita. While working for IFAW, Jonathan initiated two projects in the 90’s to trial porpoise detection systems with vaquita and to make the equipment available to Lorenzo, Armando and the rest of the team in Mexico working to monitor and conserve porpoises. He helped set up the “Vaquita Express” survey from a small sailing trimaran in 2008.


12 Jan 2011 by emerald

hello i have a question about the Vaquita Marina and if they are going extinct because of the trawl nets or the hover dam being built and making the colorado river go down to a trickle?

13 Jan 2011 by Catalina Lopez

Hi Emerald,

The main threat to vaquitas are the gillnets used in the fisheries. Vaquitas become entangled and drown. Fishermen, Mexican government, scientists and conservation groups are working together in developing safe fishing gear that will not harm vaquitas and will allow for fishermen to earn their living.
Although the decrease of fresh water from the Colorado River does have an effect on the ecosystem and several species, there is no scientific proof that this poses a threat to vaquitas. Scientists have reported that what they see are healthy individuals that do not seem to show any strain as a result of the low fresh water inputs.

Hope this helps,

15 Feb 2011 by emerald

hello Catalina
I was wondering if we could do an email interview about Vaquita Marinas, i am doing a Capstone on The Vaquita Marinas at Carl Wunsche Senior high school! It would be such an amazing chance to really get to ask you some questions! Please and Thank you!
Hope to here from you very soon,

15 Feb 2011 by emerald

hello Catalina ,
i wouldnt want to take to much of your time but if you could give me a little bit of your time to please call me at 281-353-0718.
Thank you,

23 Apr 2012 by rob

Thank you for all the work that is being done to save the precious animal, the vaquita. There is land available for purchase (or for rent) 120 meters from the northern tip of the Gulf of California, which may make for a great place to setup a research station. The two lots are 1000 square meters each. Please contact me if you are interested. I would like to play even a minor role in helping the vaquita. Google coordinates are 31.52808648, -114.22263617

31 Oct 2012 by beau

Hi I am in the 5th grade and me and my freind have started a groupe called V.A.P Vaquita Awarness Program. And we would like to donate money to help the Vaquita. Would you be a nice place to donate that money.

8 Nov 2012 by Catalina

Hello Beau,
This is wonderful news! Awareness is so important and we appreciate your effort. We don’t accept donations ourselves however there are ways you can donate to help. I suggest you visit and take a look at their website, it’s pretty neat. You could also visit WWF Mexico or CEDO, both are involved in vaquita conservation and do great work in the region.
Telling your friends about this web page and our Facebook page will also help, so please encourage everyone you know to visit these sites. Most importantly, have fun with your new project! Remember we are here to help if you need us.

19 Sep 2013 by Lorette

First I will like to say you are doing some very good work here. Second, I would be really interested in a current estimate as of 2013 (It is quite hard to find recent articles dating after 2010). I would love to hear from you soon, and hope you can be of some help to me completing my uni report. Please don’t hesitate to contact me on my email :)
Thankyou :)

21 Sep 2013 by Catalina López

Try searching for the IWC/65A/Rep 1, Annex L from the IWC 2013 meeting. The latest estimate mentioned there is of 189 individuals. Hope this helps.

23 Oct 2013 by Lorette

Thankyou so much!!! This has helped me greatly!!!!


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