A Desperate Push to Save Mexico’s Vaquita Porpoise
Sandra Dibble - The San Diego Union-Tribune
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October 17, 2017

Update: Searchers in Mexico Find, But Release, Vaquita Porpoise Calf (Associated Press)

A flotilla of small vessels set off into Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California before daybreak last Friday, launching a daring and desperate quest to prevent the extinction of a species.

For the next month, biologists, veterinarians, technicians and four female U.S. Navy bottlenose dolphins from San Diego are slated to participate in this expedition aimed at locating Mexico’s few remaining vaquita porpoises. Dubbed Vaquita CPR (Conservation, Protection and Recovery), the plan envisions not only capturing them, but breeding them in order to re-build the population. And hopefully, once conditions allow, releasing them back into the wild.

The chances of success? Nobody knows, because it’s never been done before. Scientists say it’s one of the most complex marine mammal rescue efforts put into operation, and the challenge is a big one: Fewer than 30 vaquitas are believed to exist, and they are shy and prone to stay away from boats. No vaquita has ever been captured alive, much less bred under human care.

Yet if anyone is up to the task, this is the group that can do it: top dolphin and porpoise experts from Mexico, the United States, Denmark, Holland and New Zealand who are pooling their skills for this $5 million effort spearheaded by Mexico’s federal government off the coast of Baja California.

“If I didn’t think it could be done, I wouldn’t be here,” said Grant Abel, an animal husbandry specialist from New Zealand who has worked with finless porpoise populations in Japan and China. “The main challenge is the fact that this is the first time. Everything we do with these animals, we’re going to be looking at their behavior and responses to help guide us in our decision-making for the next step.”

The plan is has been taking shape off the coast of San Felipe, a fishing community of some 30,000 residents that has been ground zero for vaquita rescue efforts for more than a decade. People here have been divided on the subject— some working with government and environmental groups to remove totoaba nets and develop sustainable practices, though others have seen the protection measures as a threat to their livelihood.

Read the rest at The San Diego Union-Tribune

Related: Marine Activity Halted in Upper Gulf of California Vaquita Habitat (Mexico News Daily)

Related: The Story Behind Mexico's Effort to Capture the Vaquita (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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