English/Inglés Science/Ciencia

U.S. Navy-trained dolphins join last efforts to save rare vaquita porpoise in Mexico

Four U.S. Navy-trained dolphins and their handlers arrived in Mexico October 5, 2017, to participate in the last efforts to save the rare vaquita porpoise from extinction. The names of the four dolphins are Andrea, Fathom, Katrina and Splash. These four female dolphins were selected for their gentle nature and demonstrated behavioral acumen.

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The Navy loading its trained dolphins onto a cargo plane earlier this month. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Rob Simpson.

The vaquita porpoises are the world’s rarest and smallest porpoises, adults measure only 5 feet in length. There are less than 30 in the world left and can only be found in the northern part of the Gulf of California.

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Vaquita Porpoise population decline over time. Cirva VIII report. Graph Credit: NOAA FISHERIES

Vaquita porpoises are often caught in illegal gillnets set to catch totoaba fish, whose bladder is prized in China’s black market. The Mexican government enacted a permanent ban on gillnet fishing in the Northern Gulf of California earlier this year to save the vaquitas.

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Vaquita porpoise caught in fishing net. Image credit: Flip Nicklin, Minden Pictures
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Vaquita porpoise found dead in the Gulf of California. Image Credit: Mexico’s Federal Office of Environmental Protection/La Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente (Profepa) de Mexico

The United States, Chinese, and Mexican governments have joined forces to prevent the illegal selling and transportation of totoaba fish in order to save the Vaquita Propoise. Totoaba fish is being illegally transported from Caléxico, Mexico or Los Angeles, United States to Hong Kong, China. All three countries are training federal agents to be able to identify the totoaba fish.

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Mexican government infographic stating, “If we protect the totoaba fish we save the vaquita porpoise.” Image credit: Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources/ Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales de Mexico

On Friday, October 13, 2017, the Mexican government and an international group of marine life experts began executing a bold and compassionate project known as Vaquita CPR (conservation, protection, recovery) to save the endangered vaquita porpoise from extinction. The first phase of the project is to capture at least 10 vaquita porpoises using the U.S. Navy specially trained bottlenose dolphins. This phase will take several weeks.

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Mexican officials and an international group of marine life experts met on October 11, 2017 to prepare for phase one of the Vaquita CPR project. Image credit: Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources/ Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales de Mexico
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One of the U.S. Navy bottlenose dolphins and its trainers preparing to save the vaquitas. Image credit: Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources/ Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales de Mexico

Once the vaquitas are located, the group of scientists and veterinarians will capture them and take them to a floating pen sanctuary within their natural habitat. Vaquita porpoises only reproduce every two years. The concept of Vaquita CPR is to keep these vaquitas in a safe and restricted space so that marine life experts can study them and help them reproduce, and eventually release them.

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The vaquita porpoise floating pen sanctuary being being referred to as “El nido” or the nest. “El nido” measures 40 meters in diameter. Image credit: Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources/ Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales de Mexico

 

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