Vaquita found Entangled in Illegal Gillnet

The survival of the tiny cetacean is uncertain after an encounter with poachers and the fishing gear responsible for the decline of its species

San Felipe, BCN, Mexico – March 7th, 2020 – A new video has surfaced on social media with disturbing footage of a vaquita trapped in an illegal totoaba gillnet. An anonymous source tells Sea Shepherd that the incident took place early in March 2020.

The ten-second video shows the marine mammal badly entangled in a gillnet, with mesh wrapped around the animal’s face, body, dorsal fin, and pectoral fin. In the video, poachers surrounded and prodded the animal, which was lying on top of an illegal totoaba net in a small fishing boat.

The vaquita was not moving in the footage of the event, and it is not clear whether the animal survived the encounter. Vaquitas are notoriously timid animals who do not respond well to interactions with humans. In 2017, attempts by scientists to capture a live vaquita resulted in the death of the animal. 

The video surfaced just days after two Sea Shepherd ships and Mexican authorities from MARINA, PROFEPA, and CONAPESCA were attacked by poachers in the Vaquita Refuge while attempting to remove illegal fishing gear from the federally protected waters that are home to the endemic species.

There are only 6-19 vaquitas left alive. 

Vaquitas are the most endangered marine mammal in the world and exist only in the Upper Gulf of California. Gillnets are the primary threat to the survival of the rare porpoise. These nets are placed by poachers hoping to catch totoaba, a protected species whose swim bladders sell for a high price on the Chinese black market. International organized crime groups are involved in the illegal fishing and trafficking of totoaba swim bladders due to this high demand in China and other Asian countries.

Tototabas and vaquitas are approximately the same size, making the small cetaceans particularly vulnerable to entanglement in the illegal nets designed to kill totoabas.

Sea Shepherd has been present in the Upper Gulf of California for the past six years, working with Mexican authorities to remove the illegal nets responsible for the decline of the vaquita. In March 2019, Sea Shepherd discovered a dead vaquita trapped in a gillnet, removing any doubt that illegal fishing plays a significant role in the decline of the vaquita population.

This recent encounter further illustrates the deadly threat that gillnets pose to the vaquita and the importance of Sea Shepherd’s continued efforts to remove the illegal nets that plague the Vaquita Refuge.

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