IWC: “Our organization is about to be shamed” by a tiny porpoise

Photo taken by Thomas A. Jefferson under permit (Oficio No. DR/488/08).

It’s never easy to talk about shame, but here we are again, faced with the inevitable reality of the  extinction of yet another species.  We bid adieu to the Yangtze River dolphin (‘baiji’), which was declared functionally extinct in 2006.  Evidently history teaches us nothing, as the same fate likely awaits the tiny vaquita porpoise.

If talk could bring back species from the point of no return, the vaquita would be thriving.  Workshops, conference presentations, and surveys continue in a veritable conga line of opportunity, while ‘action’ seems to be a elusive concept.  As has been widely recognized, actually removing gill nets, rather than talking about that, will bring about the possibility of a future for the vaquita.

Actionwhat a novel concept in conservation!

Sigh!  Here’s some more talk on the ‘plight of the vaquita’, brought to you by IWC.

Debbie Palka, Chair, IWC Scientific Committee: “(The vaquita) is close to extinction.  The Scientific Committee and Conservation Committee has said it many times and has made several strong recommendations.

The population has experienced a strong decline since 2009. When the latest population survey was conducted in 2008, the population estimate was 220 animals.  Illegal fishing continues to occur within the vaquita’s range, with one report of 87 boats fishing in the Vaquita Refuge (of the northern Gulf of California). 

We have also made the recommendation of continuing research on techniques to reduce gill netting for fin fish or remove all gill nets from entire range.  The Scientific Committee would strongly like to reiterate our extreme concern for the status of this species.  The only reliable conservation effort for species is to eliminate vaquita bycatch, if extinction to be avoided.  All gill nets should be removed from the Gulf of California immediately.”

© Mark Carwardine (

UNITED STATES:  The United States wishes to commend Mexico for past government initiatives on reducing bycatch for the vaquita.  We would like to express our extreme concern for plight of the vaquita as a result of bycatch in fishing gear and express our cooperation in joining efforts to advancing conservation initiatives.

AUSTRIA:  We have had one very worst case scenario recently with the baiji, Mr. Chair. My fellow commissioners, we are on the brink of another worst case scenario with the vaquita in Mexico.  How much greater must be the shame be when a highly-evolved species is on the brink of extinction again?  Frankly, its time for diplomatic niceties and step-wise strategies to take a backseat to action.  Our organization is about to be shamed.  We will be under the eternal judgment from future generations if we fail.

We call on the IWC, range states, and NGOs to raise this issue to a higher level of resoluteness.

CYPRUS (on behalf of EU member states):  We wish to express that we are deeply concerned about the findings of the Scientific Committee about status of two species – the vaquita and Maui’s dolphin.  Both species are severely impacted by entanglement in fishing gear.  We congratulate Mexico on steps to reduce gill nets in vaquita habitats.

INDIA:  India fully supports and appreciates the work of the Scientific Committee.  Endemic species are very critical and need to be conserved at any cost.  The role of the Scientific Committee through presentation of their findings will be critical for the very survival of these endemic species.

SWITZERLAND:  We welcome the work of the Scientific Committee on small cetaceans, and appreciate their reports, even when there is no good news.  Switzerland urges all contracting governments to reduce direct and indirect effects (on small cetaceans) and (to) restore degraded habitats.

ECUADOR:  Ecuador wishes to associate itself with the previous comments and urges contracting governments to join us in this face of urgency in the loss of a species and he impact of gill nets on this particular species…Joint action by everyone together will help.

MEXICO:  I’m grateful for all comments made about this subject. Mexico, since in1997, always brought information about the vaquita to the IWC and information submitted to the Scientific Committee is information that I myself have developed with U.S. researchers.  We know that there is still much to be done to eliminate all gill nets, and we are making progress.  Declines in illegal fishing and loss of the population are slower, but still we are not able to bring about recovery.  The goal of the recovery program is to remove gill nets entirely by 2013. The U.S. has been tireless in its efforts to support us in developing alternative means to fishing.

On a personal note, I believe that Mr. Michael Stachowitsch, the esteemed Alternate Commissioner from Austria, nailed it.  Now, it’s time to put some action behind the talk.

Talk, it seems, will never go extinct.

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2 Comments on “IWC: “Our organization is about to be shamed” by a tiny porpoise”

  1. dglimmer Says:

    Viva Vaquita! Whether it’s one boat or 87 fishing in the Vaquita Refuge, it takes just one accidental gill netting incident to impact the entire fragile population. We know the solution to the problem – Mexico must demonstrate their commitment to saving the vaquita by enforcing a ban on gill nets in the vaquita range.

  2. Beth Says:

    It’s all a moot point if the upper Gulf continues to get choked off from fresh water inflow due to the sponge of the mid-west US… Their habitat has likely been irretrievably damaged already. Can’t pin this one solely on Mexico.

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