Featured Image Credit: Paula Olsen via NOAA
The current population of vaquita porpoises are having a… little bit of a crisis. A report in May of 2016 stated there are only about 60 individuals left— a 92 percent decrease in their population since 1997, landing them on the list among critically endangered species. The cause is generally down to the five-foot marine mammals getting caught as by-catch in illegal gill nets of totoaba fishermen in the Gulf of California.
And while the Navy has increased its surveillance, and Mexico’s ban on gill nets that often lead to these drowned vaquita porpoises, it persists— to the demise of the species.
But there is a light in this dark tunnel!
There are plans to recruit the US Navy’s team of trained bottlenose dolphins in a “last-ditch” effort to save the vaquita from extinction.
With the same skills— such as utilizing their natural sonar— that allowed them to do tasks such as locating sea mines, the dolphin team would be able to search for the rare porpoise within the Gulf of California, and report back to their handlers.
After that, the vaquita would be caught and delivered to safe “floating pens” off the coast of San Felipe, Mexico, and away from the threat of illegal gillnets. The team of experts behind this endeavor hope that, by doing this, they will be safe and able to survive. And, with any luck, able to breed and repopulate from their meager numbers.
Vaquita porpoises have never successfully been held in captivity, but there are hopes that being held in this penned ocean refuge, rather than moved from their natural habitat— the vaquita may be able to thrive.
It all “has to be done in a very careful, staged manner, and if any one of those fails, it’s over,” says Barbara Taylor, a biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla. “We can’t afford to be slow about this. We have to give this our mightiest effort as quickly as possible.”
The full operation is planned for May, this year. Time enough to prepare, and hopefully time enough to save as many of this species as possible.
We sincerely hope that it goes well— because if it doesn’t, the vaquita porpoise population could easily be wiped out by the year 2022.