Vaquita Update: Three documented deaths in one month, not good
Three dead vaquitas were discovered and examined in the northern Gulf of California (Mexico) in March 2016: (1) a floating carcass found by researchers from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in the Vaquita Refuge area on 4 March, (2) a carcass reported by phone to authorities, on the beach north of San Felipe on 13 March and (3) another floating carcass reported to and recovered by the Sea Shepherd team on 24 March. Necropsies were performed on 24-25 March by Frances Gulland (The Marine Mammal Center and US Marine Mammal Commission) and Kerri Danil (Southwest Fisheries Science Centre, NOAA/Fisheries) with support from Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho (Instituto Nacional de Ecología y Cambio Climático). The necropsy reports are available here. In all three cases the cause of death was described as “trauma, entanglement.” Further analyses for biotoxins are being carried out. The nets involved were presumably set illegally to catch totoaba, the large croakers (which like the vaquita are red-listed as Critically Endangered) whose swim bladders are used in a lucrative, illegal Chinese market. The totoaba fishery has surged in recent years and is helping to drive the vaquita rapidly toward extinction. Currently all gillnets are banned in vaquita habitat, but the ban is in effect for only one more year. It is essential and urgent to extend the ban and strengthen enforcement.