Vaquita's hopeful fight for survival

For decades, the news about the vaquita (Phocoena sinus) has become increasingly depressing, as the number of animals decreased from year to year. Now there is new hope, because the latest estimate of the vaquita population in the upper Gulf of California in Mexico has shown that the current population of the species is 10 to 13 individuals, including one or two calves. This means that no more animals have been lost compared to previous surveys, perhaps the population has grown by a few individuals. It is important to note that these numbers are estimates.


The survey was conducted by the Cetacean Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in May 2023 in the Gulf of California (

The vaquita population has dropped to critical levels, largely due to illegal fishing for shrimp and totoaba, another critically endangered species. It is important to point out that the vaquita population declined from 567 to 245 individuals between 1997 and 2008. Later, from 2008 to 2015, the rate of decline of the porpoise increased from 8% to 45% per year. The last estimate in 2021 assumed that there would be only seven or eight adults and one or two calves.

To save the vaquita from extinction, fishing has been banned in a so-called zero-tolerance area in the northern part of the Gulf of California, but fishing is still illegal there. In August 2022, the Mexican Navy deployed 193 concrete blocks with three-meter-high metal hooks in the area, in which nets are supposed to be caught. In addition, the Mexican Navy has worked with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and other organizations to closely monitor fisheries, resulting in a 90 percent reduction in fishing in the zero-tolerance zone, according to the study.

"The concrete blocks, together with enforcement within the ZTA, appear to be an effective means of preventing gill nets," the IUCN report said. "Based on this year's findings, expanding the concept of concrete blocks and hooks to other areas where vaquitas are known to forage is an urgent priority."

Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho Vaquita
Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho with a model of a vaquita, IUCN

It is equally important to find solutions for fishermen who need to find a way to make money. The non-governmental organization Pesca Alternativa de Baja California (Pesca ABC) is dedicated to finding such solutions by developing alternative fishing techniques without gill nets and helping fishermen create markets for their vaquita-friendly fish products.

For seven years, YAQU PACHA and Nuremberg Zoo have been supporting various NGOs such as Vaquita CPR, Pesca ABC and Museo de la Ballena, which work tirelessly to protect the vaquita. So it is a first ray of hope for all of us, the first in decades, which is ultimately due to the perseverance of the many people who are committed to protecting the vaquita . It would be wrong to say that the vaquita is saved, we are far from that. Rather, it is important to take this news as an opportunity to continue to work for the protection of the species.