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 February 2019, scientists estimate that around 20 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. At the current rate of loss, vaquitas will likely decline to extinction in the next year or two. Our last hope to save vaquitas from extinction is the complete elimination of gillnet fishing in their habitat and effective enforcement efforts by the Mexican government.