I recently traveled to Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, Mexico to participate in a concert to benefit charities in the region. Save the Whales is one of the founding members of the organization ¡Viva Vaquita! which was designated as an official charitiy of the event.This was an excellent opportunity to conduct outreach about the world's most endangered marine mammal, the vaquita porpoise, in the region where they actually live.
The concert, called Peñasco Palooza, was organized by Steve McCarty from the Steve Miller Band and featured members of famous American rock bands from the 70's and 80's. The Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO, a Puerto Peñasco-based environmental organization) organized a booth at the event to distribute information about the vaquita and sell local handicrafts for fundraising. I was invited to come onstage to talk about the vaquita and was presented with a donation check from the concert. When Steve McCarty performed, he also spoke about the urgent need to help the vaquita and even dedicated a song to them.
Of the over 1000 concert goers, the vast majority did not know about the vaquita. I also found this to be true when I visited local businesses in Puerto Peñasco and distributed information in other regions.
Fishing and shrimping are the main drivers of the economy, particularly since the large drop off in tourism. Fishing activities directly lead to vaquita deaths as the gillnets used to catch fish entangle and drown vaquitas. Removing gillnets from their habitat would prevent the extinction of vaquita, but it would cause hardship on the fishermen who rely on fishing and shrimping as the main driver of their economy, unless alternative occupations are found.
The few people that had heard about the vaquita believed that they were either a myth or that they used to exist but are extinct now. Most local people, including many life-long fishermen, have never even seen a vaquita in the wild because there are so few of the very shy and elusive animals. We do know that there are about 200 vaquita left, so the most important priorities for conservation efforts should be to (1) prove the vaquita's existence to the local communities and (2) convince them that the vaquita is worth saving.
Save The Whales Contributes to CEDO, Puerto Penasco, Mexico
Save The Whales made an $8,000 contribution to CEDO to help develop methods to work with indigenous fishermen near the vaquita habitat in Baja, California, Mexico.
The American Cetacean Society (ACS) - Monterey Bay Chapter - also contributed $8,000 for a combined gift of $16,000 that was matched by the Packard Foundation for a total of $32,000. ACS and Save The Whales are both part of an environmental consortium called
¡Viva Vaquita! working collectively to save the small extremely endangered vaquita porpoise.
Problems in Saving Vaquita
Saving a species involves countries and boundaries (which animals don't recognize), governments, the species' environment, dedication of core people working to save the species and financial assistance. A special meeting concerning vaquita was held in Tampa, FL in November 2011, and some of the discussions and problems raised were:
° Effects of damming Colorado River and silt deposits on vaquita habitat.
° Estimating numbers of vaquita trapped and killed in gillnets over a one-year period.
° Monitoring of vaquita outside of their range, possibly with small boat, aerial and/or acoustic monitoring.
° Vaquita life history is poorly understood and few dead vaquita are available for research.
° Creating a source of income for fishermen who give up fishing.
° Need for mass-produced education tools: posters, fact sheets, and coloring books in Spanish and English.
° Mexico should be urged to increase enforcement capacity and efforts to eliminate illegal fishing.
° Buy-outs of fishermen must be monitored to ensure that lasting results are achieved to stop the accidental bycatch of the vaquita in fishing gear.
To learn more about the life history, habitat and perilously low numbers of the vaquita, go to an article written by Thomas A. Jefferson, Ph.d.
Help the Vaquita
You can help the vaquita by signing Save The Whales' petition to United Nations Environment Programme (Amy Fraenkel - North America Regional Director). Click on Petition Letter to Ms. Fraenkel, sign and send.