At the direction of the Mexican government, The Consortium for Vaquita Conservation, Protection, and Recovery (VaquitaCPR) was created to develop and implement an urgent conservation action plan aimed at preventing the species from going extinct.

The emergency action plan was adopted by the Mexican government’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) on the recommendation of its international recovery team, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA). The plan is being implemented in tandem with Mexico’s ongoing efforts to end illegal fishing, remove gillnets from the Northern Gulf of California, and support the fishing communities in the region with alternative, sustainable fishing practices.

VaquitaCPR is led by Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The National Marine Mammal Foundation, The Marine Mammal Center, and the Chicago Zoological Society are assisting with coordination of the effort.

Key collaborators in Mexico include the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), Baja Aqua Farms, Acuario Oceanico, and the Mexican Association of Habitats for the Interaction and Protection of Marine Mammals (AMHMAR),.

Additional United States collaborators include Duke University and the Marine Mammal Commission, with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) providing technical expertise. European collaborators include Dolfinarium Harderwijk, Aarhus University, and Fjord&Baelt. Support and expertise has also been offered from Dolphin Quest, SeaWorld, Ocean Park Hong Kong, and the Vancouver Aquarium.

The emergency conservation action plan developed by VaquitaCPR’s experts outlines detailed, meticulous steps to locate, catch, and house vaquitas in a sanctuary in the Northern Gulf of California, with the ultimate goal of returning the animals to a gillnet-free habitat and then actively monitor them following reintroduction to their natural environment. Experienced animal care staff will monitor the vaquitas throughout all phases of the conservation action plan.

The National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) is very proud to have a prominent role in this extraordinary effort to save the vaquita. Under SEMARNAT leadership, the NMMF has taken a lead role in the coordination of efforts of a multi-institutional, international conservation team in partnership with The Marine Mammal Center and the Chicago Zoological Society.

In addition to leading the development of the program plan and coordinating technical implementation of the emergency action conservation efforts, the NMMF administers VaquitaCPR on behalf of the Mexican government.

The vaquita is on the verge of extinction. It is the most critically endangered marine mammal in the world. This rare, tiny, elusive porpoise—similar to, but smaller than a dolphin—was first discovered in 1958 and is only found in Mexico’s Northern Gulf of California.

Between 1997 and 2017, gillnets have killed hundreds of vaquitas. Their estimated population dropped from approximately 600 to fewer than 30 animals.  The roughly 8% per year decline with legal gillnetting increased to over 40% per year decline when illegal gillnetting for totoaba resurged.

Since 2015, all gillnetting has been banned within the range of vaquitas. However, illegal fishing with gillnets continues. The target of this illegal fishing is a large, endangered fish called totoaba. The dried swim bladders of totoaba are smuggled into Asian markets and reportedly sold for thousands of dollars because of unverified beliefs that the bladders have medicinal value, rejuvenate skin, act as an aphrodisiac, and boost fertility.

In addition to devastating both critically endangered vaquita and totoaba populations, these illegal fishing nets have also killed numerous dolphins, sharks, turtles, and other marine creatures that are so essential to a healthy Gulf of California ecosystem and the web of life it nourishes, including human communities.

No.  In an unprecedented move in April of 2015 that demonstrated Mexico’s commitment to conservation, President Peña Nieto announced a two-year gillnet ban throughout the vaquitas’ range, compensated fishermen and related industries for their loss of income, and enhanced multi-agency enforcement of the ban led by the Mexican Navy.

The government of Mexico also launched an extensive survey of the vaquita population using an approach that included both visual monitoring and advanced techniques that use sound to locate the animals.

Additionally, SEMARNAT authorized the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to remove gillnets and other illegal fishing gear from the vaquitas’ habitat.

In July of 2017, a permanent ban on gillnet fishing went into effect in a bid to save the critically endangered species of porpoise.

The potential extinction of the vaquita is a problem created by humans. Despite the risks and the unknowns, we cannot turn our heads and watch the surviving porpoises simply disappear.

All of us involved take the position: not on our watch. We believe it is our moral responsibility to do everything possible to try to save the species.

Other species have been saved from similar or smaller numbers.  We believe there’s still time and enough genetic diversity. Jane Goodall recounts many species have been brought back from complete extinction in the wild that have now been reintroduced into the wild following captive breeding from very small numbers of individuals.  Some examples are:

  • California condors (8)
  • Black-footed ferrets (18)
  • Pere David’s deer (10)
  • Przewalski’s horse (13)
  • Red wolves (14)
  • Rufous hare-wallaby (7)
  • New Zealand robin (2)

As Dr. Sam Ridgway, President of the National Marine Mammal Foundation, pointed out “experts from around the world have come together for the vaquita in much the same way conservationists did to save the California condor from extinction in the 1980s. We recognize the challenges, but the conservation and scientific communities feel a duty to act without delay and hope our collective expertise can make a difference.”

Because there is no hands-on experience with this marine mammal species, the conservation action plan includes international teams with expertise in all aspects of the proposed work and an expert advisory group to provide guidance at critical stages throughout the implementation of the plan.

We are all committed to doing everything we can to make this a success.

Implementation of the conservation action plan will cost more than $5 million USD in 2017 alone and could take several years to fully implement all four phases. The Government of Mexico has spent over $100 million to date to save the vaquita from extinction and has contributed $3 million specifically to help fund VaquitaCPR. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) Program contributed an additional $1.2 million USD. Further donations from the public, private organizations, and non-profit organizations are essential for field efforts to begin this fall.

Dr. Jeff Boehm, Executive Director of The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, has been leading fundraising efforts for VaquitaCPR. As the world’s largest marine mammal teaching hospital, the Center advances global ocean conservation through marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation, scientific research, and education. Since 1975, the Center has rescued and treated more than 22,000 marine mammals that have stranded along the coast of California, and in 2014 opened the first long-term rehabilitation facility for endangered Hawaiian monk seals in Kona, Hawaii.

We also want to give special thanks to the Waitt Foundation and Disney Conservation Rapid Response Fund, whose generous financial support was essential to the creation of VaquitaCPR’s emergency action plan.

Any readers interested in learning more about the program can contact us at for additional information about this crucial, international effort.