vaquita is one of the world's most endangered cetaceans.
Its tiny, isolated population makes it highly vulnerable
to human activities.
often are caught in nets set to catch other animals.
This "incidental take" is the primary
reason for the vaquita's endangered status. Gulf
of California fisheries include shrimp trawling
and gillnet fisheries for sharks. (A gillnet is
a large flat fishing net that entangles fish as
it hangs vertically in the water.) Each year,
25-30 vaquita drown in gillnets.
survival is closely related to one gillnet fishery
in particular: totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi, a
type of fish resembling the white seabass). Like
the vaquita, the totoaba lives only in the upper
Gulf. Vaquita are easily entangled in the larger
holes of the totoaba nets. In 1990, the International
Whaling Commission (IWC) determined that the totoaba
fishery is responsible for the vaquita's endangered
is itself an endangered species. For many years,
totoaba fishing continued with no controls. Even
small-scale totoaba fishing was very difficult
to monitor. Mexico banned totoaba fishing in 1975.
The U.S. has banned imports of totoaba since 1977.
But demand for totoaba as a food fish keeps the
illegal fishery profitable.
in both the United States and Mexico protect the
vaquita. It was placed on Mexico's endangered
species list in 1978. The U.S. added the vaquita
to its endangered species list in 1985. A vaquita
sanctuary was established in the northern Gulf
area. But as long as illegal totoaba fishing continues,
vaquitas will continue to drown in gillnets. If
people continue to buy totoaba, not only will
this fish become extinct, so will the vaquita.