Vaquita porpoises have been disappearing at an alarming rate because they drown in illegal fishing nets in the Gulf of California. With a team of 90 experts from 9 countries, VaquitaCPR (Conservation, Protection and Recovery) set out on a courageous path to buy the vanishing vaquitas more time on the planet. We attempted to locate and rescue the remaining vaquitas from extinction and bring them into a temporary ocean sanctuary while the complex issues surrounding fishing in their habitat could be solved. It was a plan embraced by conservationists all over the world. Sadly our rescue plans were suspended because vaquitas reacted poorly to being in a new environment. But with fewer than 15 vaquitas now remaining, fighting to save them is more important than ever.

Now, the story of the vaquita is being told in a new documentary film. Sea of Shadows just had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and we’re all hopeful that it will find a wide audience that cares about ocean conservation. Watch more from the film’s director and one of the VaquitaCPR scientists featured in the movie.

Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho
International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita
"It was clear that if we did not take vaquitas into a save haven, under human care, they would be killed in gillnets used by illegal fishers. Any unexpected single event can drive a vulnerable species to extinction, and this can happen in a blink. Captive care is a potentially valuable but complex tool for recovering marine mammals. We have the ability through technology to determine almost in real time where vaquitas are living in the Gulf of California. That knowledge can advise enforcement agencies about where the vaquitas are and help protect the area from human activity. With the few remaining vaquitas in a small habitat, enforcement against illegal fishing can happen and I also believe agreement with fishing communities is possible. The vaquita is a very resourceful animal. If illegal fishing stops killing them, they will thrive."
Dr. Barbara Taylor
"With both no sign that the 40-year rate of decline had been lessened by the gillnet ban and no sign that the number of nets being pulled during totoaba season was decreasing, an attempt had to be made to remove vaquitas from their critically dangerous habitat. Critically endangered species can rapidly accelerate down the slide towards extinction and need both efforts in the wild but also options to save them outside the wild far in advance of the need to use those options."
Dr. Randy Wells
"An incredible team of experts from around the world, all of whom care deeply about the future of this little porpoise, gave our best efforts to try to save the vaquitas. Determining that our approach was not going to be successful was devastating. A recent re-sighting of an identifiable presumed mother with two different calves in two consecutive years gives some hope for the species to be able to eventually recover should the threats be removed. We also hope the lessons from VaquitaCPR will be taken to heart with regards to other declining populations and species of small cetaceans, and that conservation efforts, including ex situ options, will be considered while sufficient numbers remain to support the necessary testing of their viability."
Jorge Rickards
“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.”
Dr. Andrew Read
"We had simply exhausted all other possible avenues for preventing the extinction of the vaquita. Despite the best intentions of the Government of Mexico, it had become clear that conservation actions on the ground - such as enforcing the vaquita refuge and gill net ban - would never be successful. There was simply no other option. It was an honor to participate in VaquitaCPR and to work alongside so many colleagues I respect and admire. From a personal perspective, one of my most powerful experiences was watching so many individuals, each at the very pinnacle of their professions, put aside their egos to work as a team toward a common goal."

Rescue Efforts: The Details

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 each. 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.  Read the details of the rescue plan here, and the scientific paper that summarizes how the project went and lessons we learned as we continue our work to save the world’s most endangered marine mammals.

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

Vaquitas are vanishing. Fast. 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.

Here's what you can do to save the Vaquita from extinction.

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.