WildAid and Monitoreo Vaquita protect the Mexican vaquita from extinction by removing gill nets that entangle the vaquita and tracking their population.

The world’s smallest porpoise is on the brink of extinction. The vaquita marina (little sea cow) is only found in the Northern Sea of Cortez and less than 30 individuals remain (a dramatic decrease from last year). While fishermen do not target the vaquita directly, its numbers are decreasing due to entanglements in gillnets.

Between 1990-2010, gillnets used to catch Mexican shrimp resulted in the loss of over 70% of the vaquita population. At that point, fishermen increased the use of gillnets within the vaquita habitat to fulfill the latest fad: the resurging hunt for the endangered totoaba fish and its prized swim bladder.

In China, a single totoaba swim bladder can sell for as much as $31,000-50,000 on the black market. As a result, many local fishermen are willing to risk capture by authorities in an attempt to cash in before the totoaba itself is gone. In 2015, the Mexican government enacted a two-year ban on the use of gillnets in the vaquita habitat and permanently banned them this year. However, due to lax enforcement and legal loopholes, the vaquitas’ numbers continued to plummet.

WildAid is helping to protect the vaquita by reducing demand for totoaba and improving enforcement in Mexico through a partnership with Monitoreo Vaquita, a group of local fishermen, to remove gill nets that entangle the vaquita and track their population.

Since 2010, Monitoreo Vaquita have placed 84 hydrophones in the water and worked with international scientists to determine accurate population counts for the vaquita. This data is used to make scientifically-based policy and management decisions.

In addition to their scientific research, Monitoreo Vaquita has removed 115 gill nets from vaquita habitat in the past year. Each net could weigh up to 800 lbs and creates a deadly hazard for any vaquita in the area as it sits in the water column. The situation is fraught with risk and some of the fishers have been threatened by poachers.

Through our partnership, we hope to expand the work of Monitoreo Vaquita with the purchase of additional hydrophones and support for their patrols.