Andy Read Joins International Efforts to Save Endangered Vaquitas

Andy Read, director of the Duke University Marine Lab, is taking part in an international effort to save the vaquita porpoise, the world’s most endangered marine mammal.

Fewer than 60 vaquitas are believed to remain in the wild and their population—native only to northern portions of Mexico’s Gulf of California—continues to rapidly decline, in large part because of the accidental deaths of many of the porpoises in poachers’ gillnets.

This year, Read and other members of the international team will attempt to capture some of the last remaining vaquitas with the help of U.S. Navy dolphins and relocate the captured animals into a temporary sanctuary.

The rescue will occur in tandem with ongoing efforts by the Mexican government to remove the threat of gillnets in the upper Gulf and eliminate illegal fishing there. In 2015, the Mexican government instituted a two-year ban on gillnets over the entire known range of the vaquitas. It has also implemented a financial compensation program to provide income to fishermen affected by the ban.


Rafael Pacchiano, Mexico’s Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources, announced the ambitious rescue effort earlier this year based on the recommendation of an expert advisory group, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA).

Read is an internationally cited expert on marine mammals. In addition to serving as director of the Duke Marine Lab,
he is Stephen A. Toth Professor of Marine Biology in the Nicholas School.

“It’s both exciting and daunting to be part of this collaborative effort to try to save the vaquita, much as conservationists came together in the 1980s to save the endangered California condor,” Read says.

Other institutions collaborating in the effort include the National Marine Mammal Foundation, The Marine Mammal Center, the Chicago Zoological Society, the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, and numerous other universities, government agencies, foundations and conservation organizations.