A few years ago, Mexican government efforts to save the vaquita seemed to be paying off, drastically slowing the decline in its numbers. But it was just the lull before the storm.
In 2014, acoustic monitoring in the Upper Gulf of California produced shocking results. The population of the world’s smallest porpoise had halved since 2012. And the primary cause of this collapse: the growth of the illegal totoaba fishery.
The totoaba is a critically endangered finfish, endemic to the Gulf of California. Fishing for totoaba is strictly prohibited but soaring demand for its swim bladder in China has given fishermen a lucrative reason to flout the law. And to use nets that can accidentally entangle and kill vaquitas.
Testing alternative fishing gear - © WWF-Mexico
Training fishermen on sustainable fishing gear - © WWF-Mexico
Vaquita in the Upper Gulf of California - © Tom Jefferson
How the hydrophones detect vaquitas - © WWF-Mexico
The 'sound' of a vaquita during acoustic monitoring - © WWF-Mexico
Hydrophones used for acoustic monitoring - © WWF-Mexico
Fishermen tending their net - © WWF-Mexico
Two of the few remaining vaquitas - © Chris Johnson @earthocean
With fewer than 100 porpoises left, additional action was needed to save the species from extinction.
So WWF worked tirelessly in collaboration with the Mexican government, other conservation organisations, academics, foundations, civil society groups and local communities to develop sustainable fishing gear, support fishing families, strengthen the long-term management of fisheries, and enhance implementation of the National Conservation Plan.
There is still a long struggle ahead to save the vaquita. But it’s clear what needs to be done: the illegal totoaba fishery must be closed down, and alternative fishing gear, which avoids vaquita bycatch while ensuring that fishers can sustainably support themselves and their families, must be developed and distributed.
Learn more about WWF-Mexico's conservation efforts on their website.