New Survey: No More Than Eight Vaquita Remain

Illustration of a vaquita in net by Frédérique Lucas
Illustration by Frédérique Lucas

Washington, DCOnly six to eight critically endangered vaquita may remain on the planet, the Mexican government announced last week in reporting the results of a new survey.

Compared to the 8 to 13 vaquita estimated in 2023, the new numbers indicate that the vaquita population may have declined or vaquita moved outside the survey area. In 2024, no calves were sighted, compared to one to two calves seen in 2023.

The survey was conducted in May and covered a larger area of the vaquita’s habitat in the Upper Gulf of California compared to 2023. It was funded by the Mexican government and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

The vaquita’s numbers have plummeted from nearly 600 in the late 1990s. This decline is directly caused by illegal fishing for shrimp and finfish, including the totoaba. The totoaba’s swim bladder is in high demand in Asia, particularly China, given its purported medicinal value and popularity as an investment.

Mexico published an agreement in 2020 to significantly reduce illegal fishing and provide a critical lifeline to the vaquita. To date, however, the country has not comprehensively enforced these standards. While some progress has been made in reducing illegal fishing in Mexico’s Zero Tolerance Area — a small area that likely represents the vaquita’s core habitat — illegal fishing remains rampant in the surrounding waters.

“While we commend all involved in conducting the survey, the likely decline in vaquita numbers should be setting off alarm bells in Mexico and around the world,” said DJ Schubert, senior wildlife biologist for the Animal Welfare Institute’s Marine Wildlife Program. “Given Mexico’s ongoing failures to stop illegal fishing and the trafficking of totoaba, the government remains complacent in the vaquita’s near-extinction. For decades, the primary threat to vaquita has been entanglement in illegal gillnets. Yet — despite Mexico’s 2020 agreement prohibiting the use, possession, transport and manufacture of such nets — they remain widely used by fishers in the Upper Gulf.”

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the International Whaling Commission have repeatedly called on Mexico to urgently stop illegal fishing to save the vaquita — with minimal success. These and other international entities involved in wildlife protection and conservation must take further action to compel Mexico to do more to prevent the vaquita from becoming the next extinct species.

During the press conference, Mexico announced that it will initiate a comprehensive acoustic survey for the vaquita outside the Zero Tolerance Area to determine if the animals are present outside of their former core habitat.

Media Contact Information

Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
(202) 446-2128, [email protected]

The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere: in agriculture, in commerce, in our communities, in research, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.