Dr. Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon
Presidente Constitucional de Los Estados Unidos Mexicanos
Residencia Oficial de Los Piños
Dear President Zedillo:
The Society for Marine Mammalogy is an international society of over 1300 scientists who study whales, dolphins, seals, and other marine mammals. It is the largest professional society in the world dedicated to the study of marine mammals.
As you know, the vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is a species of porpoise endemic to Mexico, found only in a small area in the northeastern Gulf of California. The population is currently estimated to have only 200-300 animals, making it one of the world’s rarest cetaceans. Because of its small population size, limited range, and vulnerability to fishing nets, the vaquita is in immediate danger of extinction. It is officially recognized as a species in danger of extinction in Mexico (Norma Oficial Mexicana, 16 May 1994). It is one of only two cetaceans in the world (the other is the Baiji, a river dolphin in China) classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Because this porpoise occurs only in Mexico, its fate depends on the actions of your government. No species of cetacean has gone extinct in modern time, and it would be very sad if the first extinction were to occur in Mexico.
At the recent World Marine Mammal Conference in Monaco, organized by our society together with the European Cetacean Society, researchers from Mexico’s Secretariat of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries (SEMARNAP/INP) presented a report on the efforts your government is making to save this unique species from extinction. We were very pleased to learn of the formation of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, coordinated by the Instituto Nacional de la Pesca. At its first meeting, the Committee considered several threats to the population, and concluded that the most important immediate threat to the population is mortality in fishing nets. This is not a problem unique to vaquitas; fishing nets are a threat to cetaceans throughout the world. The Committee also recommended research on the distribution, abundance, and behavior of vaquitas, which the INP has promptly begun to carry out.
The Society for Marine Mammalogy commends you and the government of Mexico for their excellent efforts directed towards the conservation of Phocoena sinus. We support the efforts of the Committee to develop a recovery plan for the vaquita that will reduce the threats to the population. By its actions, Mexico is setting an example for other countries to follow in the preservation of biodiversity. The Society will follow with great interest further actions of your government to prevent the extinction of the vaquita.
Ian Stirling, Ph.D.
cc: Dr.a Julia Carabias Lillo
Dr. Antonio Díaz de Leon