Despite conservation efforts, numbers of Vaquita, a small porpoise found only in Mexico, have continued to decline, from around 600‐800 animals in the early 1990s to about 100 animals today, according to the latest report of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA).
The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Cetacean Specialist Group (CSG) has submitted an official statement to the 65th Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), drawing attention to the risk of the Vaquita’s imminent extinction.
Following the extinction of the Baiji in the early 2000s, the world is now facing the loss of a second cetacean species, the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), which is restricted to the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Vaquitas are dying due to accidental entanglement in gillnets used to capture Totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), a large fish, whose bladder is a highly prized commodity on the Chinese market. Both the Vaquita and the Totoaba are classified as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List.
“Extinction will occur within the next few years unless gillnet fishing is completely suspended in the Exclusion Zone recommended by CIRVA without delay,” says Justin Cooke, CSG member and Official IUCN Observer to the IWC, “Because of the high‐value illegal international trade in Totoaba, the main target of part of the gillnet fishery, strict enforcement is required.”
The establishment last year of the Advisory Commission to the Presidency of Mexico for Recovery of the Vaquita reflects the serious concern at high levels, but unfortunately the conservation measures taken to date by Mexican authorities and other stakeholders have not been sufficient to halt the decline in Vaquita numbers.
IUCN is therefore urging the responsible authorities to implement the latest CIRVA recommendations without delay, and is calling upon IWC members to provide Mexico with whatever assistance is needed.
It is particularly crucial for the governments of the USA and China to increase efforts to prevent the illegal Totoaba trade into or through their territory, noting that the species is listed on CITES Appendix I (which prohibits international trade for commercial purposes), and that the nets used to capture this large fish are known to be deadly for Vaquitas as bycatch.
While the longer‐term solution will likely involve the scaling up of Vaquita‐safe fishing technologies, it is essential that gillnet fishing within the proposed Exclusion Zone be ended now in order to avert the extinction of the species.
The 65th Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is being held in Portorož, Slovenia, from 15 to 18 September 2014.