Arizona Center for Nature Conservation
Lends Support to 
Rescue Efforts to
Save Endangered Vaquita

Fewer than 30 of this “desert porpoise” remain in the world

Vaquita in the northern Gulf of California

We are proud to announce that we are lending our support to address an urgent crisis facing the world’s smallest cetacean, and the most endangered marine mammal in the world today: Mexico’s vaquita porpoise. It is estimated that fewer than 30 remain. This small “desert porpoise” is found only in the Northernmost regions of the Gulf of California, barely 50 miles from the Arizona border.

Already highlighted as one of ten signature species by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) as part of the Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) Initiative, the vaquita needs immediate help.

Despite efforts by the Mexican government to stop illegal gillnet fishing, hundreds of vaquitas have drowned from entanglement in those nets in the past several years. In an unprecedented move demonstrating its commitment to conservation, the Mexican government instituted a gillnet ban throughout the vaquita’s range, provided financial compensation to affected fishermen and established strong enforcement measures. Unfortunately, illegal gillnet fishing continues, targeting a specific fish that is also endangered: the totoaba. This fish is highly desired by Asian markets for the purported, but unproven, medicinal value of its swim bladder.

An international conservation action plan has been developed by a team of experts and adopted by Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT, Mexico) on the recommendation of their international recovery team, the Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita (CIRVA).

The plan is to temporarily remove some of the remaining animals from their threatening environment and create a safe haven for them in the northern Gulf of California. Under the plan, animals will be located, rescued, housed, and cared for by animal specialists and veterinarians from Mexico and the US. A sanctuary sea pen will be constructed. The vaquitas will be released once their habitat is free of gillnets. Implementation of this ambitious conservation plan is estimated to cost more than $3.7 million in 2017 alone and could take several years. There is an urgent need for immediate funding of $1 million by March 15 to keep the project timeline on track.

“To assist international efforts to save the vaquita, we have sent $50,000 from our conservation fund to the project, with an additional $15,000 coming from members of the ACNC Board of Trustees,” says Bert Castro, President and CEO of the ACNC/Phoenix Zoo. “We are also encouraging guests who visit the Zoo to ‘Round Up for Conservation’ at any ticket window or point of sale within the park, with all funds going toward the rescue effort.”

Locally, the range of the vaquitas evokes personal sentiment. “We have a deep connection to the Sea of Cortez as do many Arizonans,” says ACNC board member Yvonne Betts, reflecting on time spent with her husband, Steve. “With this crisis happening almost in our backyard, we care deeply about this situation and feel compelled to help.”

Castro says he and other AZA institution directors did not take this decision lightly. On a conference call a few weeks ago, the consensus among facility directors was that despite the risks and the unknowns, the risk of inaction was far greater.

Once funding can be secured, plans to set the stage for the vaquita rescue will begin immediately, in parallel with ongoing efforts to end illegal fishing and remove the threat of gillnets in the northern Gulf of California.

How You Can HelpButton available for any $5 or greater donation made at the Zoo.

    1. Spread the word. The links below will help you share on social media.
    2. In honor of $5 donations or greater at any point of sale at the Zoo, you can proudly wear this button, showing your support to help save the endangered vaquita.
    3. Make an online donation.
      Donate Here