In 2017, VaquitaCPR set out on a courageous path to buy the vanishing vaquita porpoise more time on the planet. Vaquitas have been disappearing at an alarming rate due to drowning in illegal fishing nets in the Gulf of California. With a team of 90 experts from 9 countries, we attempted to rescue the remaining vaquitas from extinction and bring them into a temporary sanctuary. Sadly our rescue plans have been suspended because vaquitas reacted poorly to being in a new environment and tragically an adult female died. With fewer than 30 vaquitas remaining, the risk was too high to continue rescue operations, but the risk of extinction is also too high to give up. Here is the story of what happened and why we need your help, now more than ever.

“The VaquitaCPR efforts were a bold move and as they end, we urge all those who care about the vaquita to show similar courage and commitment to ensure a gillnet-free Upper Gulf of California. As difficult as the last few weeks have been, we have witnessed a small glimmer of hope for the vaquita and it is our collective responsibility to do all we can to ensure a safe and healthy home for vaquitas and the new calves we have seen. Safeguarding the vaquita’s habitat is our one – and only – chance to save the vaquita.”

Jorge Rickards, CEO, World Wildlife Fund, Mexico


VaquitaCPR’s goal was to bring vaquitas into temporary human care until all gillnets for shrimp and finfish were banned and removed from their habitat. Particularly harmful are the illegal nets to catch a large fish, the totoaba, which is butchered for its swim bladder, smuggled to China and Hong Kong, and sold for thousands of dollars. Along with the totoaba and masses of other marine life, vaquitas get entangled in these nets and drown.

As we prepared for this bold conservation endeavor, the world’s best biologists and veterinarians joined our efforts. We worked tirelessly to be ready for October field operations, assembling international teams with expertise on all aspects of the proposed work and an expert advisory group to provide guidance at critical stages throughout the implementation of the plan. A state-of- the-art floating sea enclosure called ‘El Nido’—The Nest— was constructed and anchored just off the coast of San Felipe, Mexico in close proximity to the vaquitas’ native waters. Additionally, a land-based care center was built at the foot of Machorro Mountain, ready to protect and care for vaquitas if needed.

As the winds settled down in early October and our team set out on the water, we were thrilled to spot several animals and begin our rescue mission. Our first encounter was with a 6-month- old female, the age of weaning for vaquitas. Unfortunately, this animal was not adapting well to being in our care. Within just a few hours, we put her back in the Gulf close to where she was found. This was a major setback, as we were unsure if her inability to adapt was due to her age, or simply to her species. We modified our facilities, enhanced our plans, and tried again.

We experienced several days of high winds before our team could get back on the water. When the weather took a positive turn, we restarted our search effort and encountered a mature female vaquita with no evidence of pregnancy or lactation. She was calm and quiet and showed some positive signs of acclimating to her new environment. But then her condition abruptly changed. She was urgently released, but then circled right back to our team in need of emergency care. She died in the arms of a team that had courageously gathered to give vaquitas a chance at survival. Heartbroken and devastated, the team halted capture operations.

But the story doesn’t end here. And we need your help to write the ending.

Vaquitas are vanishing. Fast. By summer of 2018, they could all be gone. The problem is so simple and yet extremely complex. If we can remove illegal nets and prevent more from entering the water, we have a chance at saving vaquitas from extinction. But that will take the might of the people of San Felipe, the government of Mexico, and the entire international community.

Consider these conundrums. Can alternative fishing gear that does not kill vaquitas be developed in time to save the species? We can’t save the vaquita and drive fishers to extinction. How do you fight an illegal fishery that offers wealth in a climate of poverty? We need all hands on deck to save not just the vaquita, but also the fishing communities in Baja. And we don’t have a moment to spare.


Use your heart. You can make a difference today by supporting the multi-institutional effort to remove deadly gillnets from the Gulf, which includes the Mexican Ministry of the Environment, the Mexican Navy, Museo de la Ballena, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Use your voice. We owe it to each of the remaining vaquitas to sound an alarm that is heard round the world. Help us tell their story. Talk about vaquitas that are drowning, fishermen who are struggling, and the illegal fishery that is to blame. Talk about it at the water cooler and at the dinner table. And talk about how we still have time to pull them back from the edge of extinction. Then start sharing. Tweet it, post it, and blog it. #vaquitacpr @vaquitacpr

The VaquitaCPR team is hard at work to determine our next steps, and we are utilizing the expertise of our vaquita scientists to guide the way. Updates will be posted on this website.

Please stay tuned.

To each and every one of our supporters, partners, colleagues, friends, and family members… thank you. Thank you for caring about vaquitas. Thank you for showing up. And thank you for not giving up.