09:06 PM

For Immediate Release

Mexican Government Expands Endangered Vaquita Refuge Area

WASHINGTON (April 20, 2018) - Today the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico took action to expand the refuge area for the vaquita in the Gulf of California, limiting fishing and navigation that threatened the world’s most endangered cetacean. Defenders of Wildlife, along with Greenpeace and Teyeliz, presented a proposal to the Ministry to expand the area to 1,841 square kilometers of protected habitat to allow for recovery of the population, and the Ministry’s action today adopts that plan.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO for Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:

“This agreement is a huge win for the vaquita, which needs all the protection it can get. Population monitoring last year revealed that remaining vaquitas were concentrating in an area outside the original refuge, and thus were unprotected from entanglement and death in fishermen’s nets. Expansion of this protected area will allow for continued monitoring and evaluation of conservation efforts to recover this critically endangered animal.

“While this is a step in the right direction, there are still restrictions that need to be enforced to control illegal fishing and navigation activities in vaquita habitat to bring this species back from the brink of extinction.”


  • The vaquita is the world’s smallest and most endangered cetacean: it is estimated that fewer than 30 vaquitas are left in the wild.
  • The main threat to vaquitas is death by drowning in fishing gear. The Vaquita Refuge Area is supposed to be protected habitat for the species, but illegal shrimp boats are still caught fishing in the area by the Mexican government and are receiving minimal consequences.
  • The vaquita has also suffered from the demand in China for the swim bladder of the totoaba, an endangered fish that lives in vaquita habitat. Illegal fishing for and trafficking in this fish have led to serious population losses for the vaquita and totoaba alike.
  • Drowning in fishing gear kills an estimated half of the vaquita population each year. Vaquita scientists estimate that unless all gillnets are eliminated from the Upper Gulf of California completely, these rare porpoises will be extinct in less than three years.

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