• Jonas Teilmann

    Mexico: Our last chance to save the Vaquita porpoise

  • Mexico: Our last chance to save the Vaquita porpoise

  • Paula Olson

    Mexico: Our last chance to save the Vaquita porpoise

In Brief


The Mexican Government established a Zero Tolerance Area (ZTA) to protect the Vaquita and the Mexican Navy is installing submerged devices to capture illegal nets along the boundary of the ZTA.  ICFC added $30,000 in support for the Cetacean Action Treasury to enable community Sea Scouts to conduct patrols and warn fishermen not to set drift nets anywhere near the ZTA (so that they don’t lose their nets).  These actions benefit both the vaquita and fisherman were needed are now underway!

Conservation Value:

The vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus, CR) is the most endangered marine mammal on Earth with as few as 8 to 10 likely remaining as of November 2021.  The rapid decline of its population from thousands to fewer than 10 is due to illegal gill-netting of the Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), a similar-sized (1-meter) fish. The swim bladder of the totoaba fetches tens of thousands of dollars in China.  Illegal gill-netting in the vaquita reserve’s No Take Zone is also depleting others marine sea life, including the totoaba (VU).

Can we really save this species?  There is a risk of failure, but also a real chance of success. A genetic analysis indicated that the population could recover and thrive if illegal fishing mortality is curbed.  And many other species have been brought back from the brink.  We believe we must make this final effort.    

Actions & Results:

The project works with a local women’s organization (MAREM) to implement a community-based certification program to monitor and promote fishermen who comply to fishing regulations using alternative fishing gear.  In parallel, a fisheries improvement project with the Marine Stewardship Council has been launched to guide local fisheries toward sustainability with additional economic incentives such as fuel compensation to fish in areas beyond the Zero Tolerance Area.  The project will also produce educational videos to better inform the public and the potential seafood market for MAREM certified products. 


Northwest corner of the Gulf of California (see map below)


To save the vaquita from extinction. 

Project Field Partner:

Pronatura Noroeste  and the Cetacean Action Treasury


US$130,000 for the first year

Size of Area Involved:

2,444 square kilometers 

Support this project


Click to enlarge an image

Vaquita with calf
Vaquita portrait
Vaquita by patricio robles gil
Vaquita by tom jefferson

In More Depth...


Marine Protected Areas in the Bay of California, with project area circled in red.

Source: Morzaria-Luna, Hem Nalini, et al. 2018.  Biodiversity hotspots are not congruent with conservation areas in the Gulf of California. Biodiversity and Conservation 27.14: 3819-3842.

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