Vaquita Update I: A New Totoaba Season Begins with no Assurance that Mexico Will Enforce the Gillnet Fishing Ban to Protect the Vaquita

Totoaba begin spawning in December in the shallow waters where the last vaquitas survive.  With only around ten vaquitas left, it was hoped that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) would use its authority and motivate Mexico to stop the illegal trade in totoaba swim bladders. However, instead, the CITES Standing Committee, at its meeting in mid-November on the eve of the 19th Conference of Parties, agreed only that Mexico must submit a “compliance action plan” (CAP), developed in consultation with the CITES Secretariat, by 28 February 2023. The CAP was expected to:


  1. A. clearly outline the actions to be implemented and the steps that will be taken by Mexico to urgently progress implementation, in particular addressing the measures and activities that will be put in place to effectively prevent illegal fishers and unauthorized vessels from entering the vaquita refuge and zero-tolerance areas and maintain them as gillnet-free zones;
  2. outline the timeframe for implementation of each step and when it should be fully achieved; and
  3. include milestones to enable assessment of satisfactory implementation.


The agreement states: “If a finalized compliance action plan considered adequate by the Secretariat is not submitted by the 28 February 2023 deadline, the Secretariat shall publish a Notification to the Parties recommending a suspension of trade with Mexico, which will remain in effect until a compliance action plan assessed as adequate by the Secretariat is received.”


The February deadline for delivering the plan (CAP) will come only just before the March peak of the current totoaba season, but CITES directed Mexico to take immediate actions to further strengthen measures to effectively prevent fishers from using gillnets in the vaquita refuge and vessels from entering the zero-tolerance areas and to maintain these areas completely gillnet-free, by implementing a strict zero-tolerance policy concerning unauthorized fishing and fishing gear in these areas, ensuring surveillance on a full-time basis, and imposing strict penalties where irregularities are detected, including the seizure of both vessels and unauthorized fishing gear combined with administrative or criminal penalties as applicable.


It also directed Mexico to deploy the appropriate authorities with legal powers of seizure and arrest, together with the Navy, to effectively prevent fishers and vessels from fishing with prohibited gear in the Vaquita Refuge and from entering the Zero Tolerance Area and taking strict action against fishers that use any sites other than the authorized sites for departure and arrival of vessels ….


Recent observations in San Felipe indicate that illegal fishing is continuing with impunity despite these CITES directions to Mexico.



Death of Mike Donoghue, Longtime Champion of Marine Mammals in South Pacific

The sudden recent death of Mike Donoghue came as a shock to those of us who knew him. Mike was closely involved for decades in the work of the International Whaling Commission and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, and he was a trusted adviser to both Steve Leatherwood (my predecessor as CSG chair) and myself. A tribute to Mike was prepared by Phil Clapham and other members of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium which you can read here

Randy Reeves

In Memory of William F. (Bill) Perrin, (1938-2022)

The world’s cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – lost one of their most effective champions on 11 July 2022 when Dr. William F. Perrin died at the age of 83 in La Jolla, California. He was surrounded not only by his wife Dr. Louella Dolar, herself a longstanding member of the IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group (CSG) and an authority on marine mammals of Southeast Asia, and their son Joey, but also by a few of the countless students and colleagues who considered Bill a role model, mentor and friend.


Through his ground-breaking research on dolphin systematics, taxonomy, life history and population ecology, Bill had a huge influence on the field of cetacean conservation biology. At various times in his career as a senior scientist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he served as, among many other things, president of the Society for Marine Mammalogy; editor of that society’s journal, Marine Mammal Science; instigator and lead editor of Reproduction in Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (1984, International Whaling Commission [IWC]), Gillnets and Cetaceans (1994, IWC), and the first two editions of the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (2002 and 2009, Elsevier/Academic Press); a member of the Scientific Council of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the IWC’s Scientific Committee and the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission’s Committee of Scientific Advisors. Notably, in 2008 he played a key role in establishing the CMS Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Conservation of the Manatee and Small Cetaceans of Western Africa and Macaronesia.


Bill Perrin (pictured in the center) chairing the Workshop on Biology and Conservation of the Platanistoid Dolphins organized by CSG at the Institute of Hydrobiology, Wuhan, China in 1986 (photograph courtesy of Wang Ding, pictured far right)

Of greatest relevance to the SSC is that Bill chaired the Cetacean SG from 1984 to 1991. Among the many ways in which he shaped our group and raised its profile as a major force in conservation, Bill compiled the first global cetacean Action Plan, published in 1988 (a slightly revised second edition was published in 1989). He had earlier played a lead role in organizing and chairing a Workshop on Biology and Conservation of the Platanistoid (River) Dolphins in Wuhan, China, which led to publication of an SSC Occasional Paper (No. 3, 1989), a volume that provided a framework, blueprint and rallying cry for efforts  to save the Yangtze River dolphin (baiji), which sadly failed, and for ongoing work by scientists and conservationists in South America and southern Asia to prevent further losses of freshwater cetacean diversity and abundance.


After stepping down from his position as Cetacean SG Chair, Bill continued for nearly three decades to function as an informal adviser to his successor, Steve Leatherwood (1991-1997), and to me (1997-present). He was instrumental in helping the SSC and CSG organize and carry out a Red List workshop in La Jolla in 2007 where we assessed all cetacean species. From then until 2013 when failing health made it difficult for him to continue, Bill served as the Cetacean Red List Authority Coordinator.


Portions of Bill Perrin’s foreword to our 1994 Conservation Action Plan for the World’s Cetaceans resonate as forcefully today as they did then, and they are worth repeating:

Cetacean diversity, like all biodiversity worldwide, is crumbling; we are losing it at a rapid and increasing rate. So we must redouble our efforts. Social, economic, and political factors will determine what we have left in a few years, and we need to understand and address those factors. If we don’t speak up, if we don’t go out of our way to prod and assist the managers, there will be no hope for continued abundance of whales, dolphins, and porpoises.


Randall Reeves
Cetacean Specialist Group Chair
21 July 2022