The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the world.
Bycatch in gillnets has driven a precipitous decline of the species since it was first described in 1958. In 1997, the entire population, limited to the Gulf of California, comprised fewer than 600 individuals. As of July 2021, scientists estimate that less than 10 vaquitas remain. Extractive fisheries to serve a global seafood market have been at the heart of conservation issues in the Upper Gulf. Vaquitas, dolphins, sea lions, sharks, sea turtles, and many other marine animals are drowning in gillnet fisheries.
Illegal Gillnet Fishing
Vaquitas are disappearing at an even faster rate than before. This alarming decline is due in part to the persistence of an illegal gillnet fishery aimed at catching a large marine fish known as totoaba. The totoaba’s swim bladder can fetch large sums of money in Chinese markets. Thus, despite tens of millions of dollars invested by the Mexican government in preventing vaquita bycatch, the population is rapidly vanishing.Our last hope to save vaquitas from extinction was the complete elimination of gillnet fishing in their habitat and effective enforcement efforts by the Mexican government. Sadly, in the summer of 2021, the Mexican government lifted a ban on fishing in the vaquita’s habitat, clearing the way for even more deadly gillnets in the area. At what is expected to be an accelerated rate of loss, many scientists believe the vaquita will likely be extinct within months.