Vaquitas to be tracked by dolphins and kept in holding pens
The Mexican government is using dolphins trained by the US Navy to try and save the vaquita, the world's most endangered marine mammal, from extinction.
It is a big venture and probably the vaquita’s last chance for survival. On 12 October 2017, the Mexican government's first catch-and-rescue operation began. Specially trained dolphins from the US Navy are being despatched to track down as many vaquitas as possible. The vaquitas would then be transferred to a sea pen off the coast of San Felipe, Mexico.
Vaquitas are found only in the Gulf of California, and nowhere else on Earth. Their population has fallen drastically in recent years, and now there are less than 30 of them left.
“The drastic action is the vaquita’s last chance; despite the ban, deadly fishing nets are still found in their habitat. There are many risks to implementing this procedure, since the vaquita’s reaction to captivity has never been observed. However, if we do not try it, this marine mammal will probably go extinct in front of our eyes,” said Heike Vesper, WWF Germany’s Director of Marine Program, in German. "We support this risky effort as a last resort to save the species from extinction, but it should not be perceived as permitting the continuation of illegal fishing. The natural habitat of the vaquitas has to be a safe haven so that the population can be brought back into the wild.”
After being relocated, the vaquitas would hopefully be accustomed to their new environment, and subsequently breed within their pens.
The cause of the vaquita’s dire situation stems from the fact that many marine mammals end up as by-catch in fishing nets. These nets are cast into the Gulf of California by poachers targeting endangered totoabas, a fish whose dried swim bladder fetches astronomical prices in China. The smugglers’ trail leads from Mexico to China, via the US. "The three states must jointly tackle the poaching of the totoaba and put an end to the illegal trade," said Vesper. The WWF will continue to search for and remove illegal fishing nets and ghost nets from the vaquita’s habitat in the Gulf of California.