Featured Image Credit: US Navy
We know dolphins are smart. It’s something scientists have been intrigued by for years. The way they communicate, comprehend, understand, empathize and socialize is beyond the ability of any other ocean animal. So it comes as no surprise that the U.S. Navy has trained a group of dolphins, also known as the Navy Marine Mammal Program for tasks like locating sea mines using their natural sonar.
The U.S. Navy-trained dolphins and their handlers recently arrived in Mexico to participate in a last-ditch effort to catch, enclose, and protect the last few dozen surviving vaquitas, saving them from complete extinction.
Mexican authorities, experts, and the trained dolphins will set out on October 12 to search for the elusive vaquitas. Experts acknowledge the whole “catch and enclose” plan is a risky one, but it’s gotten to the point where people are willing to do anything to save this species. The only way to do so is to keep the vaquita in captivity and breed it to bring the population numbers back up. In previous years, this proved successful for the red wolf and California condor.
“The idea is to keep these vaquitas we capture in a safe, restricted space so that we can look at how to reproduce them and eventually recover the population, and eventually release them,” said Mexican Environment Secretary Rafael Pacchiano.
According to Jim Fallin of the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, the Navy Marine Mammal Program is “limited to four mature female dolphins selected for their gentle nature and demonstrated behavioral acumen.”
The same way they locate sea mines, the dolphins will use their natural sonar to locate the vaquitas.
Despite Mexico’s campaign efforts to save the world’s smallest and rarest type of porpoise, it is estimated there are under 30 left.
Alex Olivera, the Mexico representative of the Center for Biological Diversity, supports the efforts of the U.S Navy-trained dolphins but emphasized the importance of the protection of the enclosed habitat the vaquitas will be moved to.
“This risky option became the only option, but vaquitas have never been captured alive before, so this effort is uncertain,” Olivera said. “It’s a high-stakes operation that’s happening because the Mexican government has shown an inability to protect the animals in the wild.”
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