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A Population in Decline

A graph showing the population decline of vaquitas from 1997 to 2019. In 1997, there were 567 vaquitas. In 2012, there were 200. By 2014 there were fewer than 100, and by 2019 there was an estimated 6 to 9 vaquitas left.
Credit: Smithsonian Institution

At the current rate of population decline, the vaquita may be extinct in a few years. The vaquita’s population before 1997 is unknown, but genetic evidence indicates it was never abundant. The documented decline from 1997 to 2012 was largely due to vaquitas being caught in shrimp gillnets. Since 2013, vaquita populations have drastically declined as the increased black market demand for a rare fish (called the totoaba) has escalated illegal gillnet fishing.