Vaquita are one of the world’s most threatened mammals, with less than ten individuals thought to remain. These all exist in a small area of the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California UNESCO World Heritage site in Mexico, where entanglement in illegal fishing nets threatens their survival. The RRF is supporting removal of illegal fishing nets to save this critically endangered species from extinction.

In particular, vaquita are affected by gillnets used to capture the endemic ‘totoaba’ fish, which is targeted for its swim bladder for overseas markets.  No fishing activities are permitted within the vaquita's core range, but nevertheless, illegal fishing continues. The perilous situation of the vaquita led to the World Heritage Site being included on the list of World Heritage in Danger in 2019.

At the end of 2020, an existing programme to remove the illegal gillnets in the UNESCO World Heritage site was put on hold, leaving the vaquita at risk. RRF, therefore, has provided emergency funding to enable a local group, Museo de la Ballena y Ciencias del Mar, to resume daily net removals during the remainder of the totoaba poaching season (April – May).

This work is a collaborative effort to save the species. A mass transition away from gillnets represents a longer-term solution, and challenge, that various local agencies are working on. At this point in time, failure or delay of net removal from this small critical area of vaquita habitat represents an intolerable risk to vaquita survival, as well as many other marine species which get caught in the illegal nets.

Banner image credit: Paula Olson/ creative commons

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