The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is one of the world's rarest marine mammals and the most endangered cetacean species.
Action on Vaquitas - the World's most Endangered Cetaceans
The tiny vaquita porpoise of the northern Gulf of California, Mexico, is the world's most endangered cetacean species. A July 2014 report of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) indicated that the vaquita's decline toward extinction has accelerated recently, with likely fewer than 100 remaining. Vaquitas die from entanglement in gillnets used to catch shrimp and finfish in legal fisheries, which primarily serve markets in the United States. In addition, however, there has been a resurgence in an illegal fishery for totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), a large and endangered fish species also endemic to the northern Gulf of California. This fishery, which involves large-mesh gillnets exceptionally lethal for vaquitas, is driven by the high price and demand for totoaba swim bladders in China.
The measures announced in February 2015 follow, to a large degree, the July 2014 recommendations of CIRVA which called upon the Government of Mexico to take immediate action to eliminate gillnets from the vaquita’s entire range and to accompany this measure with strong enforcement action. However, the delay in implementing protective measures and the continuation of intensive gillnet fishing over the many months since release of the CIRVA report have increased fears that the vaquita is on the brink of extinction. Without immediate action the vaquita will almost certainly follow the Yangtze River dolphin (baiji) and become the second cetacean species, of only around 90, brought to extinction in the 21st century.
The Commission's Role in Vaquita Conservation
The Marine Mammal Commission strongly supports the efforts of the Government of Mexico to address the threat of incidental mortality in fisheries (bycatch) to this critically endangered marine mammal, and it has a long history of providing funding and international scientific and technical expertise to these efforts. The Commission has supported the participation of international experts in the most recent and previous CIRVA meetings and in other meetings to assess vaquita numbers and trends through acoustic monitoring, and it is committed to continuing to assist Mexico in its efforts to prevent the vaquita's extinction.
Among other things, the Commission will continue efforts to develop, test, and introduce vaquita-safe fishing gear and methods, increase the effectiveness of protected areas, strengthen fisheries enforcement and trade controls, and develop market incentives for vaquita-safe products.
The Commission is taking a leadership role, in collaboration with U.S. government and Mexican agencies, to conduct an international Economic Summit with the objective of providing communities in the northern Gulf of California with financially, socially, and ecologically viable alternatives to the gillnet fishing that is currently driving the vaquita toward extinction.
The Commission also supports scientific evaluation of trends in the vaquita population, including statistically rigorous assessment of the effectiveness of measures taken by Mexico to slow the species' decline. The continued guidance of CIRVA will be particularly important for helping to meet this objective.