Endangered Vaquita Died After Being Captured

Conservationists are mourning the loss of a critically endangered vaquita porpoise who died after being captured by authorities.

The vaquita only exists in a small area in the Gulf of California, off the coast of Mexico. Despite past efforts to protect them, including the creation of a refuge in 2005, their numbers have continued to decline at an alarming rate. Over the past five years, their numbers have dropped by 90 percent, and there are believed to be fewer than 30 individuals left in existence who have continued to suffer heartbreaking losses.

One of their main threats is being killed as bycatch after getting entangled in gillnets used to catch shrimp and other fish. They’re also suffering as a result of illegal fishing targeting endangered totoaba for its swim bladder, which is used in Chinese medicine and is also considered a delicacy.

While measures have been taken to protect them, including a ban on gillnets that was made permanent in their range over the summer, the government also launched a controversial project called Vaquita Conservation, Protection and Recovery (VaquitaCPR), which aimed to capture them and keep them in a sea pen where they could reproduce before being released when they have a better chance at survival.

Last month, scientists with the program captured a six-month-old calf, but it became so stressed the decision was made to release it.

Unfortunately, that disaster was followed by another over the weekend after a breeding-age female was caught and subsequently died.

VaquitaCPR said in a statement, “From the moment of capture, the vaquita was under constant care and observation for its health and safety. Marine mammal veterinarians monitoring the vaquita’s health noticed the animal’s condition began to deteriorate and made the determination to release. The release attempt was unsuccessful and life saving measures were administered.  Despite the heroic efforts of the veterinary team, the vaquita did not survive.”

The project had already drawn opposition from a number of conservation organizations, and now the tragic loss of yet another individual, especially a female, has led to calls to end the project immediately.

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) said in a statement, “While our organization acknowledges that the VaquitaCPR program was borne out of a desperate, yet well-intentioned, desire to save the species, we believe that given the extreme risks involved, the vaquita capture plans must be brought to an immediate halt. These tiny porpoises do not respond well to the stress of capture, and not a single additional vaquita should be deliberately put in danger in this way.”

Hopefully the project will be abandoned before causing any more harm, and efforts will be focused back where they need to be on enforcing the ban on gillnets, and removing those that are putting this rare porpoise at risk of going extinct.

“Unless illegal fishing is ended through rigorous and stepped-up enforcement, and gillnets can no longer be found in the Upper Gulf, the regulations of the ban will remain inadequate to save the vaquita from extinction,” added AWI.

For more on how to help, check out Boycott Mexican Shrimp.

Photo credit: Chris Johnson/MMC


Jennifer H
Jennifer Habout a month ago

They need us to leave them alone and protect them where they are. Stop the illegal taking and gill nets. Tackle the problem - not work around it at the cost of wildlife. AGAIN.

Misss D
Misss D3 months ago

Oh dear, looks like I got cut off. Here are the rest of my comments:
This plan is based on the assessment by scientists that the vaquita will not survive another season of illegal totoaba fishing. People who say that the captures stress the animals are completely missing the point. The very animals that may be stressed are the same ones that will die massively stressful, horrible deaths by drowning in nets, panicking as they flail about trying to free themselves, desperately trying to reach the surface to breathe and finally giving up the struggle as the water enters their lungs and they die. This will happen to every single vaquita. EVERY. SINGLE. VAQUITA. The choice is stark. They either go into a seapen or they die in a gillnet. The Environmental Investigation Agency, states: “Mexico does not have the political will to stop the illegal fishing, which would involve tackling organised crime….What is absolutely shocking is that …., totoaba fishing will be reopened in February 2018. Having demonstrably failed to control the illegal fishing and international trade of totoaba, Mexico now intends to partially legalise the fishing – which will inevitably make it much harder to detect and tackle the illegal fishing and smuggling.’ Anyone who thinks that the vaquita can be saved by enforcing a ban on gillnet fishing is on a road to nowhere. These poor animals need to g

Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx3 months ago

To Diane L. : Hope you are fully aware of the fact that you are a human as well, and most certainly you must hate your parents for having given birth to you !!! I presume you know where the most children are born ?? Not in the U.S.A., Not in W. Europe.. NO !! And why not ?? Because we DO NOT NEED OUR CHILDREN TO WORK in the fields or in small stinky factories to get just enough money to buy a handful of rice of put on the table. May be you have never read a history book about the situation in W. Europe in the early 1900's. Our families also counted 8 , 10, sometimes even 12 or more children. How can you explain that ? First of all, there was no contraception neither for women, nor for men. Okay in India, China and Africa these exist, BUT PEOPLE ARE SO POOR THEY CAN NOT PAY FOR THAT. So each time they have sex, there is the possibility that 9 months later, they have another baby ....
In rural areas, a large number of children is needed to get some food on the table. When only the father has a meager paid job, and the mother has none, how do you think they can survive. Also, when they are 60 or 70, they do not get a pension from the Government as we do, so they need their (surviving) children to take care of them and buy them some rice and a piece of fish... See what I mean ???????

Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx3 months ago

To : Cruel Justice As far as I understood this article, the vaquita is terribly endangered NOT because this fish is eaten too much. They get entangled in the gill-nets used to fish to totoaba, which the CHINESE - AGAIN AGAIN AGAIN AGAIN - need the latter for traditional medicines and because it is a delicacy. So the real cause is the fishing of this totoaba for the Chinese people..... not because local people or we eat the vaquita's... So better blame the Chinese, and NOT all the people who eat a piece of fish from time to time !!!!!!!!! Thanks !!!!!!!!!!!!

Nicole H
Nicole Heindryckx3 months ago

When I see China, traditional medicines and delicacy, my stomach turns !! And I always wonder how this can be "traditional", as I am quite sure that they could not obtain all these animals / animal parts 500 years ago. Now, it is easy with oceangoing vessels crossing the oceans every days, but that was not the case 500 years ago !! Now it is the totoaba that is the goal. But when fishing this totoaba, they also have a lot of vaquita in their nets. The experiments regretfully failed, so they must NOT CONTINUE this. When this animal is so easily stressed out, they must remain in their home locations. The only things to do are : A TOTAL ban to use the gillnets, especially in this area, and enlarging the rescue area which they started in 2005. As during the last 5 years their numbers decreased by 90 %, I even think there is more terribly wrong there. Most urgently measures must be taken to save this animal. Otherwise this will be another victim of the "modern" fishery material used to empty our seas and oceans the soonest possible, without even thinking 1 minute about all the animals that are entangled in these gillnets and that they do NOT want to fish. Really hope they can save this fish, it would be so SAD to have another extinct animal due to the greed of people.....

Carole R
Carole R3 months ago

This is so very sad.

Renata B
Renata B3 months ago

Absolutely heart breaking.

Ellie M
Ellie M3 months ago


Ruth G
Ruth G3 months ago


Janet B
Janet B3 months ago