As the most endangered marine mammal, the vaquita’s numbers have dwindled to fewer than 20 individuals. The natural curiosity to see these rare creatures up close might lead one to wonder if any vaquitas can be found in zoos or aquariums.
However, the answer is no. There are currently no vaquitas in captivity in zoos or aquariums. In fact, experts have not successfully kept vaquitas in captivity for any significant length of time. Previous attempts to capture and house them in controlled environments have proven challenging and even fatal for these sensitive animals.
Unlike some of their dolphin cousins who have adapted to life in captivity, vaquitas are highly susceptible to stress, which can lead to severe health complications and even death. In 2017, a conservation effort called “VaquitaCPR” aimed to create a temporary sanctuary for vaquitas in the Gulf of California. Unfortunately, the mission had to be abandoned when a captured female vaquita passed away shortly after being placed in a sea pen.
The tragic outcome of the VaquitaCPR mission emphasizes the importance of focusing on in-situ conservation methods to protect the remaining vaquita population. Instead of attempting to keep them in captivity, experts are now concentrating on preserving their natural habitat and reducing threats such as illegal fishing and bycatch.