Featured Image Credit: C.Faesi/Proyecto Vaquita
By Emily Persico
Just south of the California-Mexico border lies the Gulf of California, a relatively thin strip of water that just so happens to be home to the tiniest and most endangered of porpoises—the vaquita. With less than 30 individual Vaquitas remaining, the Mexican and US government (and so many others) are doing all they can to keep the vaquita from going extinct. And now, a man who lives well over 3,000 miles away in Eastern Canada is taking the lead in developing equipment that may well save the Vaquita from their most imminent of threats.
Dr. Paul Winger is the director of the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources at Memorial University, and he is opening his tanks to test new Vaquita-friendly shrimp fishing equipment. But, why Canada?
“Turns out we have the only [flume tank] in the Western Hemisphere,” says Winger.
A flume tank is basically a gigantic tank—in this case, 450,000 gallons—used to test fishing gear. When the tank first opened in 1988, it was used primarily to design equipment that could catch as many fish as possible. These days, however, the tank is more often used to design environmentally-friendly fishing gear, the type that would not ensnare the dwindling vaquitas on their road to recovery.
“So some of the technology we’ve been working on this week is more visible or audible,” says Winger. “[Vaquitas] can see it or hear it, and then that way they avoid it.”
Winger is currently developing fishing equipment to catch shrimp, a practice which has been indefinitely banned by the Mexican government in the vaquita’s range. Until someone develops a vaquita-friendly fishing net, shrimping communities are being stripped of their jobs and partially compensated to stay ashore.
“The government can only do that for so long,” says Winger.
While the Mexican government and vanishing vaquitas run out of time, Winger is racing the clock to find a solution that will work for everyone. If the clock does run out, the vaquita will be the second cetacean species to go extinct in the 21st Century, following closely after the demise of the Chinese river dolphin.