Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 28, 2018

Contacts:  Alejandro Olivera, Center for Biological Diversity, +521 612-104-0604, (Español and English)
Sarah Uhlemann, Center for Biological Diversity, +1-206-327-2344,
Marjorie Fishman, AWI, 202-446-2128,  

UNESCO Ignores Vaquita's Imminent Extinction, Delays 'In Danger' Designation

MANAMA, Bahrain— Conservation and animal-protection organizations reacted with alarm as the UNESCO World Heritage Committee today postponed an “in danger” listing for Mexico’s Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California World Heritage Site — home of the critically endangered vaquita porpoise.

Fewer than 30 vaquita remain on the planet, after suffering decades of decline because of entanglement in gillnet fishing gear set to catch shrimp and other species. If current rates of decline continue, the vaquita will be extinct by 2021. The Gulf of California site was granted World Heritage status in 2005, in part to protect the vaquita.

“Given the increasingly dire situation facing the vaquita, the UNESCO delay could mean the loss of this unique species,” said D.J. Schubert, a wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute who is attending the Committee’s meeting in Bahrain this week. “It’s absolutely critical that the committee and the International Union for Conservation of Nature see to it that Mexico goes beyond empty rhetoric and takes all actions necessary to save the vaquita before it’s too late.”

This is the second time UNESCO has postponed making an “in danger” decision on this site. In 2017 the committee granted Mexico’s request to delay a decision for the Gulf of California site for one year to allow Mexico to improve vaquita protections. Today the WHC opted again to ignore the vaquita’s plight and decided not even to discuss an “in danger” designation despite the porpoise’s population likely being reduced by about half since the committee’s last meeting, jeopardizing its very existence.

In 2015 the AWI and Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the World Heritage Committee to list the site as “in danger” because of the decline of the vaquita and the totoaba, a large, critically endangered fish. Vaquita experts have found that despite the Mexican government’s recent regulatory actions, the vaquita’s decline continued “unabated” last year.

“Delaying the in-danger designation could be a death sentence for these desperately imperiled porpoises,” said Alejandro Olivera, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Mexico representative, also attending the Committee’s meeting in Bahrain this week. “The Mexican government bought more time to avoid acting to save the vaquitas, which have nearly vanished on President Peña Nieto’s watch. By delaying these crucial safeguards, UNESCO is letting the current president off the hook for failing to save these porpoises.”

According to World Heritage Committee guidelines, a site qualifies as “in danger” if a species for which a site was protected suffers a “serious decline.” A recent report on the site by the World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature acknowledges that illegal fishing nets continue to be found in the vaquita’s waters.

As part of an ongoing effort to urge the Mexican government to rigorously enforce laws to protect the rapidly disappearing species, AWI, Center members and others plan to rally on July 5 beginning at 8 a.m. outside the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. Held in conjunction with International Save the Vaquita Day, the rally is one of several happening across the world next week. For more information on the D.C. rally, visit

The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere — in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. For more information, visit

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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