If there are only 30 left, can we still save the vaquita?

We can’t know for sure. But there have been several examples of marine mammal species that have come back from the brink of extinction. The vaquita population can recover if the immediate threat is removed from its habitat. And the only real danger for the vaquita are gill-nets.

What efforts have been made to save the vaquita?

Since the vaquita was first described by science and shortly after declared “vulnerable” by the IUCN, numerous actions have been taken by the Mexican government to save the species. However, none of these actions have prevented the decline of the population.
A ban on gill-nets should have halted the decline, but gill-net fishing continues, with seasonal permits for a local species of fish, the corvina, and illegally for the totoaba.

What is the totoaba and how is it connected to the vaquita?

The totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) is a large species of fish native to the Gulf of California in Mexico. Like the vaquita, it is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as “critically endangered”. Illegal fishing has driven this species to the brink of extinction and as the gill-nets used in this fishery allow…

Why are Mexico’s efforts to save the vaquita not effective?

Mexico has tried various things to help the vaquita population recover: it declared a refuge, later stepped up its efforts and banned gill-nets throughout the vaquita’s range, sending its navy and collaborating with NGOs for enforcement. But illegal fishing continues to this day. Totoaba are frequently found discarded in large numbers (only their swim bladders…

Why is the vaquita endangered?

The single most serious thread to the vaquita, and the cause for its rapid decline, is the use of gill-nets in the vaquita habitat.

A gill-net is a wall of netting that hangs in the water column. The mesh is designed so that fish can get their heads through, but not the rest of their bodies. As they struggle to free themselves, they get entangled with their gills. Gill-nets are very effective and used around the world, but often lead to large amounts of by-catch and pose a threat to other marine animals, such as sea turtles, seals and sea lions and cetaceans like the vaquita. If a vaquita gets entangled, it only has minutes to free itself. Most animals drown, and those that escape often do so with severe injuries.