“Ghost nets resulting from illegal fishing are the biggest contributors to the decline of the vaquita population,” Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. Oceans and Wildlife Campaign Manager


In May and October of 2017 we joined forces with the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), and Monterey Bay Diving to locate and remove illegal gillnets from the critical vaquita porpoise habitat in the Gulf of California.

The vaquita’s proximity to extinction is due to illegal fishing activity and the resulting abandoned gillnets, known as ghost nets.

The team set out early each morning to scan the water for discarded fishing nets

Nylon gillnets intended to catch a fish called the totoaba, a critically endangered species sold illegally in China where their swim bladder is prized for use in traditional medicine, entangle and drown the vaquita.

As the illegal totoaba fishery ends for the season once the fish stock has migrated, the abandoned nets left in the shared habitat pose an active risk to vaquitas, frequently entangling the animals.

A video overview of our work in May 2017

Unique sonar scanning technology allowed the team to locate illegal and discarded fishing nets likely to cause entanglement of the vaquita species.

The team preps the sonar device, which will help them find abandoned fishing nets

This incredible sonar capacity made it possible to determine the location of nets in the habitat area to be reported for recovery.

The team ultimately removed approximately 61,375 square feet of net on May and 21,500 square feet of net in October.

Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. Oceans and Wildlife Campaign Manager with recovered fishing gear

During an entire month of scanning between September and October, the team found significantly less gear than over a similar length of time in May. This is a hopeful sign that the habitat may finally be safer for the vulnerable vaquitas – for now.

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Watch a video of our October 2017 work

What does a vaquita porpoise sound like? Click below to find out.

Audio clip courtesy of Armando Jaramillo-Legorreta, National Institute of Ecology of Mexico

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