11:59 PM

Mexico Takes New Initiative to Protect the Vaquita, World’s Most Endangered Porpoise

WASHINGTON (June 8, 2017) ­– The Mexican government has announced new efforts to save the critically endangered vaquita from extinction, following a widespread advocacy campaign by conservation groups and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

Mexico, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and the Carlos Slim Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding outlining objectives to ban the gill nets that kill vaquitas, to limit night fishing and to increase prosecution of illegal fishing, among other protective measures. The memorandum also establishes an objective of providing sanctuary to the remaining vaquita, which may include the creation of a captive breeding program in sea-based pens.

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife Senior International Counsel Alejandra Goyenechea:

“This is great step towards recovering the vaquita, a porpoise that desperately needs our help to escape extinction. But it’s important to remember that any effort to recover vaquitas placed in a sanctuary should include the goal of returning them to their wild natural habitat in the Gulf of California.

“Vaquitas have needed stronger conservation measures for years. We hope that this effort by the Mexican government, the Carlos Slim Foundation and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation inspires many others in Mexico, the United States and across the world to protect the world’s most endangered porpoise.”


  • 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 getting off with 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.
  • Defenders of Wildlife joined a new campaign in March 2017 to boycott Mexican shrimp until the Mexican government enforces fishing regulations to protect the vaquita.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.