Saving the Vaquita

Vaquita and totoaba artwork by E. Hawkins @mermaid_tale_designs

The Vaquita are the most threatened marine mammal species. A species only found in the Gulf of California, it’s declined has been well documented since before 1978. The primary threat to this small, shy little porpoise is illegal fishing practices and poaching of the totoaba, a fish also critically endangered and native to the Gulf of California, Mexico. The rapid mortality of the vaquita attributed almost entirely to the entrapment in fishing gear and gillnets set illegally for the poaching of the totoaba for black market trade, mostly to China. In 2018, it was estimated that 19 vaquita were left and the it is now predicted to be in the 10s.

There have been several, so far, unsuccessful conservation efforts to save the vaquita. Including suspension and compensation to fishermen not to fish with gillnets, but the lack of ‘acceptable alternatives to gillnet fishing, resulted in the resumption of illegal fishing with gillnets’ (according to the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group).


The IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group recently released an open letter to the Governments of Mexico, US, Canada, China, European Union, among others, calling for immediate actions to save the vaquita. They note; ‘disastrous effect of the illegal totoaba fisheriy which violates national laws and international conventions’ is well-known. “We cannot let this imminent extinction happen, when we know how to prevent it: stopping the continued use of illegal gillnets. Urgent, collective and comprehensive measures are needed to make this a reality and ensure the vaquita’s survival”.

They warn ‘Time is of the essence’ for the vaquita who ‘cannot wait another year for national and international bodies to exercise their powers to prevent this loss’.

Dolphin Research Australia joins numerous NGOs in push for the Australian Government, as a member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), to take an open strong stance to save the Vaquita and ask the Mexican Government to tighten fishing practices and having Zero Tolerance for illegal activities. With the impending fishing seasons about to begin from November 2021, coupled with the new trigger plan and the extremely low numbers of vaquita, it could very well be their last months of existence. It is imperative that the international community, publicly express concern and offer expert assistance to the Mexican regulators.