Last Call for Vaquita, the Mexican “Panda of the Sea”

Posted on 06 February 2017

WWF statement on new vaquita numbers released by the CIRVA.
Mexico City (6 February) – Last week, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) announced that only about 30 vaquitas are estimated to survive, compared to 60 individuals last year.

The world’s smallest porpoise, the vaquita, is endemic to Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California. The single biggest threat to the species are fishing nets that inadvertently catch and drown them, most notably gillnets used to illegally catch the critically endangered totoaba fish. The totoaba’s swim bladder is a highly-prized delicacy in Asia and follows an illegal trade route from Mexico to China, through the United States.

As the latest numbers highlight the urgent need for action, WWF reaffirms its conviction that the only way to save the vaquita from extinction is for the Mexican government to immediately and indefinitely ban all fisheries within its habitat and ensure full and effective enforcement.

WWF urges the Mexican government to:
  • Immediately crack down on the illegal totoaba fishery, expanding upon the important ongoing efforts of the Mexican Navy and the Ministry of Environment.
  • Ensure the full commitment and support of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (SAGARPA).
  • Stop the corvina gillnet fishery, which provides cover for illegal totoaba gillnets, and is expected to start this month.
  • Extend indefinitely the current two-year gillnet ban, which is due to expire in April.
  • Continue and expand efforts to retrieve and destroy “ghost nets” within vaquita habitats.
  • Work with fishing communities to find suitable economic alternatives and renew efforts to scale up the use of vaquita-safe fishing gear to ensure they and their families can have a more sustainable way of life.
In addition, WWF is also urging the U.S. government to take swift and decisive action to stop transborder shipments of totoaba products and calling for the Chinese government to immediately stop the illegal transport and sale of totoaba products.
WWF reiterates its commitment to continue working with fishing communities, the Mexican government, the international community and donors to ensure a future for vaquita, alongside sustainable livelihoods for local communities. This includes continued support of the Mexican government’s efforts to retrieve and destroy “ghost nets” within the habitat of the vaquita, as well as finding vaquita-safe fishing techniques.

After the Chinese river dolphin was driven to extinction in 2006, the world is now on the brink of losing a second cetacean species due to human activities. We cannot allow this to happen.

--- ends ---

Notes to Editors:
  • The report of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) is available here.
  • For more information on the demand for totoaba fish and their bladders, please refer to this link and the report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) available here.   

Vaquita porpoise in upper Gulf of California, Mexico
© Chris Johnson
Vaquita or Gulf of California Harbor porpoise (Phocoena sinus) caught in fishing nets, Baja California, Mexico.
Vaquita or Gulf of California Harbor porpoise (Phocoena sinus) caught in fishing nets, Baja California, Mexico.
© National Geographic Stock/Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures / WWF