How Can We Keep the Endangered Vaquita from Vanishing?

We find out the good and bad of proposed conservation strategies to save this small cetacean.

Vocabulary: conservation, cetacean, poacher, gill nets

NGSS: LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans (NRC Framework page 166)


Dead vaquita entangled in a gillnet set for totoaba. Copyright Omar Vidal. NOAA Fisheries West Coast/Flickr

The vaquita is one of the smallest and rarest cetacean species. This diminutive porpoise is native to the northern part of the Gulf of California. Scientists estimate that only 60 individuals remain in the wild. Researchers are investigating a conservation strategy that involves capturing and placing some of the vaquitas in enclosures out in the Gulf. Conservation biologist Barbara Taylor, who’s surveyed vaquitas in the wild, talks about the benefits and risks of the strategy.

Audio Excerpt “How Can We Keep the Endangered Vaquita from Vanishing?” Aug. 5, 2016. (Original Segment)

Print this segment transcript.

Listening Questions

  • Conservation biologists are debating a plan to capture a few wild vaquitas and possibly try to breed them in captivity. Explain benefits and drawbacks to this plan according to Barbara Taylor.
  • If the recovery team is successful at capturing and keeping a few vaquitas, do you think it will harm efforts to improve the vaquita habitat?
  • If the Mexican government made gill nets illegal, then why are they still a problem in the Gulf of California? What action would you suggest to the Mexican government to address this concern? Remember that any suggestion must be ecologically sound otherwise it might risk more damage to the vaquita population.
  • The vaquita habitat is located where the Colorado River meets the Gulf of California. The damming of the Colorado River has decreased the size of the vaquita habitat. Do you think the United States has an obligation to change our water policies to protect this sensitive habitat? Be sure to justify your response.

Activity Ideas

  • Pair this radio excerpt with a short article expanding on the vaquita conservation debate. Have students debate the motion: The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) should try to capture and breed vaquitas. They can begin their research here, here, here, and here.
  • Use this segment to introduce a larger activity on endangered species and conservation efforts on their behalf. Using a world map, have students mark the habitats of their species. Give space for a discussion of successful versus unsuccessful conservation efforts. What traits do the most successful conservation efforts have in common? Based on successful conservation strategies, have students make plans and recommendations for the species they researched.