Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 5, 2017

Contact:  Amey Owen, Animal Welfare Institute, (202) 446-2128,
Sarah Uhlemann, Center for Biological Diversity, (206) 327-2344,
Alejandro Olivera, Center for Biological Diversity, +52-1-(612) 104-0604,  

World Heritage Committee Gives Mexico One Year to Improve Protections for Critically Endangered Vaquita or Face 'In Danger' Designation

KRAKOW, Poland The UNESCO World Heritage Committee today gave Mexico one year to improve protections for the only remaining home of the critically endangered vaquita or face an “in danger” designation for the Gulf of California site.

The committee vowed to closely monitor Mexico's efforts to protect the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California World Heritage site and the nearly extinct vaquita, a tiny porpoise that can be found only there.

The site was created, in part, to protect critically endangered vaquita and a fish called the totoaba. In 2015 the Animal Welfare Institute and Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the World Heritage Committee in 2015 to list the site as “in danger” due to the species' decline.

“Vaquita are on the precipice of vanishing from the Earth forever,” said Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, who attended the World Heritage meeting. “The World Heritage Committee's decision adds yet another urgent call to the chorus, demanding Mexico drastically step up enforcement and save the vaquita, before it's too late.”

One of the main reasons fewer than 30 of the tiny “vaquita” porpoises remain is because they continue to become entangled in gillnets illegally set to capture totoaba. Totoaba swim bladders are in high demand in China and other Asian countries, where they are believed to have healing powers.

Illegal fishing is rampant in the region. Since February 2016 wildlife protection organizations, the Mexican government and fishermen have collected 374 illegal nets —including 220 active totoaba nets and 41 abandoned nets — in only 139 days of searching. Historically the shrimp industry in the Upper Gulf has been responsible for killing hundreds of vaquita that became entangled in gillnets used to catch shrimp. 

“We are disappointed that the WHC chose to postpone its decision on the in danger listing for the Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California World Heritage site. Given the dire situation facing the vaquita, such a delay could mean the loss of this unique species,” said DJ Schubert, wildlife biologist at Animal Welfare Institute. “It is absolutely critical that the WHC and the International Union for Conservation of Nature see to it that Mexico goes beyond empty rhetoric and takes all actions necessary to save the vaquita.”

The committee was scheduled to take a final vote on the site's status at the 41st World Heritage meeting ongoing in Krakow, Poland. But today the committee chose to delay its decision, acknowledging Mexico's June 30 proclamation of a rule permanently banning gillnet use in a large portion of the Upper Gulf of California.

The rule, while a step forward, has been criticized for not banning the sale or manufacture of gillnets in the region, for exempting two fisheries from the gillnet ban, and for failing to address significant weaknesses in law enforcement.

As part of the ongoing effort to urge the Mexican government to rigorously enforce laws to protect the rapidly disappearing species, AWI and Center members and others plan to rally tomorrow, July 6, outside the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. The rally — which will be held in conjunction with the July 8 International Save the Vaquita Day 2017 — is one of several happening across the country and the world this week.

To find out how to show support for the vaquita, please visit

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