If you don’t know what a Vaquita is, let me explain that they are small, shy, porpoises that live in the Gulf of Mexico. And they are considered to be the world’s most endangered marine mammal. The Vaquita’s population has been reduced by nearly 92% since 1997 when nearly 570 swam the Gulf’s waters. The Mexican Government has imposed an emergency 2 year ban on the use of gill-nets in the northern part of the Gulf of Mexico, However illegal fishing continues and the ban needs to be extended and more rigorously enforced.
“We are watching this precious native species disappear before our eyes,” said Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, co-chief scientist of the most recent survey. “This gill-net ban and strong enforcement must continue if we are to have any hope of saving the vaquita.”
Breaking News: (February 3, 2017) It has just been determined that there are only 30 vaquitas that remain in the wild. See Eco Watch. Plus see our recent post on a Girl’s Science Club project to solve the problem of marine by-catch, see: SOS: Girls’ Science Club Seeks Feedback, Insight from Marine Experts
Only 60 Vaquitas Remain
Today it is estimated that no more than 60 Vaquitas remain and that they will most likely go extinct within the next five years. Vaquitas are also related to their larger and better known cousin the Bottlenose Dolphin. And possibly Big Cousin will come to the rescue. This spring the US Navy and its squadron of trained Bottlenose Dolphins will join with marine scientists and the Mexican Navy to see if they can save the Vaquitas. Sine the 1950’s Dolphins have been trained to use their sonar to find enemy mines are guard against enemy swimmers, now they will turn their sonar to finding their endangered cousins.
“Despite heroic efforts to ban gillnets and to increase enforcement using the Navy, this illegal fishing … has continued and the recovery team felt that they needed to try something else — because at that rate [the vaquitas] will be gone in the next year or two,” says Barbara Taylor, a marine mammal geneticist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a vaquita conservationist.
The plan now is to use the sonar of the Bottlenose Dolphins to locate and capture at least some of the Vaquitas and move them to a temporary sanctuary. Hopefully these will breed and once numbers are improved they will be returned to the wild. This is a controversial program and some critics worry that in the attempt to capture the vaquitas some will be lost, however as Barbar Taylor stresses, if we cannot get the illegal fishing under control with this program we can at least save some of the Vaquitas.
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