December 2019 – February 2020 Vaquita Update


As a review, the 2018-2019 totoaba net-removal effort was greatly reduced due to violent attacks where net-removal vessels were forced to leave the area (Table 1).  A press release including video of the attack is available here for the January 31st attack (the press release for the January 9th attack is no longer available). No arrests were made for these attacks despite the fact that persons involved were identified and documented. A recap of efforts during 2018 can be found in the December 2018 vaquita update. Attacks have continued to occur this year, including shots being fired at the Sea Shepherd ship inside the Vaquita Refuge. A report on research September/October 2019 is available here. A best estimate was that around 6 non-calves and 3 calves remain within the Zero Tolerance Area (ZTA). These unexpectedly ‘high’ numbers are encouraging given the continuing high level of illegal gillnetting activities inside this last holdout area for the vaquitas.


Table 1. Total number of active totoaba nets removed during the 2018-19 poaching season including all ships that participated in the operations. Poaching season is defined as the months when gillnets are actively placed to capture totoaba, and corresponds to the time when their migration cycle brings them into the Upper Gulf of California. Dashes indicate months when the vessels were not present. During this season no active totoaba nets were found earlier than December. Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society internal reports 2018-19.

December January February March April May June TOTAL
Farley Mowat 41 13 6 35 3 98
Sharpie 8 26 1 0 35
White Holly 1 1
Narval 9 10 6 25
TOTAL 41 22 24 67 4 1 1 160

Nets removed in the current totoaba spawning season suggest a somewhat slow season to date (Table 2). Nevertheless, nets are being removed both within the Zero Tolerance Area (the only area marked with buoys deployed from the Museo de Ballena’s vessel, the Narval) and the Vaquita Refuge (Figure 1).


Table 2. Total number of active totoaba nets removed during the current poaching season. No active totoaba nets were found before November 2019. Note that in November, 12 active totoaba nets were found south of the focal area in the Bahía Gonzaga region during a joint operation with the Mexican Navy. These nets have not been included in the current table and map to maintain consistency with the usual range of net removal operations. Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society internal reports 2019-20.

November December January February TOTAL
Farley Mowat 2 17 1 2 22
Sharpie 38 23  24 85
Narval 0  –
TOTAL 2 54 24  26 106


Figure 1. Map showing active totoaba nets removed by all participating vessels through January (1a) and through February (1b). Black dots represent active totoaba nets removed during the months of November and December 2019. Red dots represent active totoaba nets removed during January 2020. Red-shaded area represents the Zero Tolerance Area within the Vaquita Refuge, recommended by CIRVA in 2019 as it was determined to be a particularly high-use area for vaquitas. The corners of this area were marked with luminous yellow buoys made and deployed by the Museo de Ballena in October 2019; the buoys are indicated on the map as yellow triangles. There are no buoys marking the Vaquita Refuge. Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society internal reports 2019-20.

























Cetacean Specialist Group Report on Activities and Progress for 2018


A report summarising the activities of the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group in 2018, as well as targets for this quadrennium (2017-2020) has been produced. The report includes information on the following:

  • Mission of the Cetacean Specialist Group
  • Project Impact and Targets for the 2017-2020 Quadrennium
  • Progress on Red List Assessments
  • Progress on Conservation Planning
  • Updates on Conservation Actions including specifically those focused on Mekong Dolphins, the Vaquita, Arabian Sea humpback whale, Taiwanese white dolphin, Marine Mammal Protected Area Task Force and the Western Grey Whale


Read the full report here.

6 Updated Cetacean Red List Assessments Published in December 2019


Assessments or reassessments of 6 cetacean species, subspecies or populations were published on the IUCN Red List in December 2019. This is in addition to the 2 published in July 2019, 5 published in March 2019, 35 published in November 2018, 10 in July 2018, and 19 in November 2017. A total of 77 updated or new cetacean assessments have now been published in the last 2 years.


The updated assessments were of the Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) which remains Vulnerable, the Indo-pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) which moved from Data Deficient to Near Threatened, and the Atlantic White-sided Dolphin which remains Least Concern. There were three new listings: the Lahille’s Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus gephyreus) and Peruvian Dusky Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus posidonia) are both listed as Vulnerable, and the Gibraltar Strait subpopulation of Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) is now Critically Endangered (see Table 1 for details). Work on new assessments and the remaining required updates is close to completion, and we expect them to be published in 2020.


Table 1. Summary of updated assessments and new assessments published in the 2019-3 (December) edition of the Red List. (NT = Near Threatened, DD = Data Deficient, CR = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, LC = Least Concern).

# Species/Subspecies Common name Taxonomic level Category Status change
1 Physeter macrocephalus Sperm whale Species (global) VU No change
2 Tursiops aduncus Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin Species (global) NT DD -> NT
3 Lagenorhyncus acutus Atlantic white-sided dolphin Species (global) LC No change
4 Tursiops truncatus gephyreus Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin Subspecies (global) VU New listing
5 Orcinus orca Killer whale Strait of Gibraltar (subpopulation) CR New listing
6 Lagenorhynchus obscurus posidonia Peruvian Dusky dolphin Subspecies (global) VU New listing


The Red List status and documentation for the 89 currently recognised cetacean species as well as 41 subspecies or subpopulations can be found on the IUCN Red List website ( Of the 89 species, 30% are assigned to a threatened category (i.e., CR, EN, VU, NT) and 29% are considered DD although ongoing reassessments of Data Deficient species are likely to result in some of them being reclassified in the near future (see Table 2). It should also be emphasized that there is strong interest in completing additional assessments of subpopulations that are known or thought to be at higher risk than the species as a whole (e.g., Killer Whales, Belugas, Dusky Dolphins).


Table 2. Summary information on Red List status as of December 2019.

Category Species Subspecies/subpopulations Total
Critically Endangered 3 17 20
Endangered 10 11 21
Vulnerable 7 10 17
Near Threatened 7 0 7
Least Concern 36 0 36
Data Deficient 26 3 29
Total 89 41 130