Vaquita rescue efforts suspended

The 10th meeting of CIRVA (Comité Internacional para la Recuperación de la Vaquita) was held at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California, on 11-12 December 2017 and the final report of CIRVA-10 (which includes the report of a short meeting of CIRVA (CIRVA Express-3), held in November 2017) as an appendix) is available here.

CIRVA concluded that the vaquita’s status, already dire, was continuing to worsen and that no more than perhaps 30 animals remained as of mid-2017. Results of the 2017 acoustic monitoring program, which is centered in the Vaquita Refuge in the upper Gulf of California, Mexico, were reviewed, as was the outcome of the effort in October-November 2017 to live-capture vaquitas and move them into a safe enclosure (VaquitaCPR). The committee was obliged to accept, with regret, the conclusion of the experts in the VaquitaCPR team and an independent review panel – that the ‘rescue’ effort should be suspended. Having foreclosed the live-capture option to protect vaquitas, CIRVA reinforced and expanded its previous recommendations to the Government of Mexico concerning, among other things:
(i) the need for stronger enforcement and strengthening of fishing regulations, including a complete ban on gillnet possession and use throughout the range of the vaquita;
(ii) continuation of the active removal of gillnets from vaquita habitat; and
(iii) continued acoustic monitoring to track vaquita population trends and evaluate the efficacy of current and future conservation measures.

On the basis of new information on vaquita habitat use obtained during the VaquitaCPR field season and the net removal efforts, a specific new recommendation calls for Mexico to implement ‘enhanced’ enforcement during the current totoaba season (December 2017 through May 2018) in the area believed to have the highest co-occurrence of vaquitas and illegal totoaba gillnets.

Posted in Critically Endangered, entanglements, Vaquita | Leave a comment

2017 Cetacean Red List Update

Assessments or reassessments of 19 cetacean species, subspecies and populations were published on the IUCN Red List in 2017.  These included all four species of humpback dolphin, the Irrawaddy dolphin, two species of finless porpoise, the South Asian River dolphin, the beluga, the narwhal, and the vaquita among others (see Table 1 for details).  A new “taxon,” the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale, was listed as Critically Endangered (CR).  The Atlantic humpback dolphin was uplisted to CR, and the baiji, vaquita and Taiwanese humpback dolphin (formerly considered a subpopulation, recently described as a subspecies) were all reconfirmed as CR (the baiji again being tagged as “possibly extinct”).  The South Asian River dolphin, Irrawaddy dolphin, narrow-ridged finless porpoise, and Indian Ocean humpback dolphin were all listed as Endangered (EN), while the franciscana, Australian humpback dolphin, Australian snubfin dolphin, Indo-Pacific finless porpoise, and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin were all listed as Vulnerable (VU).

Summary of reassessments or new assessments published in the 2017-3 (December)* Red List update. (NT = Near Threatened; DD = Data Deficient)* published in September edition of the 2017 Red List

#SpeciesCommon namePopulationCategoryStatus change
1Balaenoptera edeniBrydes whaleBalaenoptera edeni (Gulf of Mexico subpopulation)CRNew listing
2Cephalorhynchus commersoniiCommersons dolphinLCChanged to LC from DD
3Cephalorhynchus eutropiaChilean dolphinNTUnchanged
4Delphinapterus leucasBelugaLCChanged to LC from NT
5Lipotes vexilliferBaiji (Yangtze River dolphin)CR (possibly extinct)Unchanged
6Monodon monocerosNarwhalLCChanged to LC from NT
7Neophocaena asiaeorientalisNarrow-ridged finless porpoiseENChanged to EN from VU
8Neophocaena phocaenoidesIndo-Pacific finless porpoiseVUUnchanged
9Orcaella brevirostrisIrrawaddy dolphinENChanged to EN from VU
10Orcaella heinsohniAustralian snub-fin dolphinVUChanged to VU from NT
11Orcinus orcaKiller whaleDDUnchanged
12Phocoena sinus*VaquitaCRUnchanged
13Platanista gangeticaSouth Asian River dolphinENUnchangd
14Pontoporia blainvilleiFranciscanaVUUnchanged
15Sousa chinensisIndo-Pacific humpback dolphinVUNew assessment of species redefined in relation to newly recognized congeners – changed to VU from NT
16Sousa chinensisSousa chinensis taiwanensis (subspecies)CRNew assessment of subpopulation recently recognized as a subspecies - status unchanged
17Sousa plumbeaIndian Ocean humpback dolphinENNew listing
18Sousa sahulensisAustralian humpback dolphinVUNew listing
19Sousa teusziiAtlantic humpback dolphinCRChanged to CR from VU

All 89 cetacean species and an additional 39 subspecies or subpopulations have been assessed and their status and documentation can be found on the IUCN Red List website (  Of the 89 species, 22% are assigned to a threatened category (i.e. CR, EN, VU, NT) and almost 50% are considered DD (see Table 2).

Table 2. Summary information on Red List status as of December 2017.

Category Species Subspecies/populations Total
Critically Endangered 3 17 20
Endangered 10 9 19
Vulnerable 6 7 13
Near Threatened 1 0 1
Least Concern 25 0 25
Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent* 0 2 2
Data Deficient 44 4 48
Total 89 39 128

*This category is no longer recognized; therefore these assessments are out of date.


Posted in Critically Endangered, Endangered, Red List, Sousa | Leave a comment

Update on Mekong River dams and river dolphins

As mentioned in an article posted on this website on 8 February 2017, the construction of large dams in the mainstem of the Mekong River in Laos and Cambodia represents an existential threat to the small, Critically Endangered freshwater population of Orcaella brevirostris. Following the January 2017 workshop described in that article, a letter co-signed by the IUCN Director General and the Chair of the Species Survival Commission was sent to the Prime Minister of Cambodia, emphasizing the concern of the international conservation community about the impacts of dam construction on the Mekong dolphins and other biodiversity.

The dam issue was also discussed by the IWC Scientific Committee at its annual meeting in May 2017. The committee concluded that “if the proposed construction of large hydropower projects on the Mekong mainstem in Cambodia proceeds, almost all of the dolphins’ habitat in the Mekong will be modified or eliminated and the risk of extinction will be greatly increased.” The IWC Scientific Committee proposed two recommendations relevant to the conservation of the Mekong dolphin, and both will be addressed at the 2018 IWC Commission meeting.

Posted in Critically Endangered, Dams, entanglements, Freshwater Dolphins, Irrawaddy Dolphins, Mekong dolphins | Leave a comment