Featured Image Credit: VaquitaCPR
It’s no secret that the decline of the vaquita has been a major concern that we have talked about over the last couple years. For the most endangered marine mammal in the world, last-ditch efforts and risky plans set in place by both the Mexican and U.S. governments have gone into high gear as under 30 vaquitas are estimated to be left.
On October 20, 2017, scientists with the VaquitaCPR conservation project and Mexico’s Secretary of the Environment Rafael Pacchiano announced they were successful in locating and rescuing a vaquita. However, the rescue was short-lived as they realized the vaquita was just a calf, and after showing signs of stress, they had to release it back into the wild for fear of the already low population numbers of the vaquita.
“The successful rescue made conservation history and demonstrates that the goal of VaquitaCPR is feasible,” said Secretary Pacchiano. “No one has ever captured and cared for a vaquita porpoise, even for a brief period of time. This is an exciting moment and as a result, I am confident we can indeed save the vaquita marina from extinction.
Although the calf showed signs of stress, rest assured experts prepared extensively for this scenario. Every possible precaution was taken to safeguard the health of the vaquita calf, which was estimated to be about six months old.
Scientists returned the vaquita to the same spot where they initially found it in the Gulf of California. Other vaquitas were also observed in the area as well. Before releasing the calf, the team was able to successfully take tissue samples which will allow scientists to further analyze the highly endangered species and hopefully be able to conduct genetic sequencing.
“While we were disappointed we could not keep the vaquita in human care, we have demonstrated that we are able to locate and capture a vaquita,” said Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, a senior scientist with SEMARNAT, CIRVA and VaquitaCPR Program Director. “We also succeeded in transporting one and conducting health evaluations that are part of our protocols safeguarding the animals’ health.”
The record-setting rescue was a risky but bold plan led by the Mexican government (SEMARNAT) to save the endangered vaquita porpoise from complete extinction. The project is currently in its second week of field operations. On a positive note, during the first three days of the mission scientists spotted several vaquitas using visual search methods and acoustic monitoring. Vaquitas were repeatedly located by the VaquitaCPR ‘find’ team.
These field operations began on October 12 and are expected to continue for several weeks.