In the Sea of Cortez, Baja, Mexico, there lives a small porpoise, in fact the smallest porpoise in the world and the most endangered cetacean on the planet. Save The Whales, through a consortium of ocean-related groups called Viva Vaquita!, has tried numerous methods to attract the public's attention to the plight of the vaquita.
There's one move left and that is capturing some vaquita and breeding them in captivit
This is a very risky move because the vaquita are hard to find, avoid boats, are very shy and there is the possibility of some of the fragile population being killed during the capture process or dying in the confines of captivity.
A male and female would have to be found and then breed in captivity. They sometimes move very fast and their capture would be difficult and dangerous. They would not be kept in tanks but in
water pens with the
of returning them to their home waters.
Helping in this endeavor will be the U.S. Navy and the bottlenose dolphins they have trained (but never to assist in the capture of a related species).
e dolphins are part of a team being assembled on both sides of the border. The goal of this group w
be to capture live
from the open water which
has never been accomplished.
Based in San Diego, in their every-day jobs, the dolphins are used for finding and removing underwater mines and detecting clandestine swimmers and divers in restricted areas.
The team of experts, including veterinary case specialists, is expected to attempt capture of the vaquitas in the spring. This effort is being spearheaded by the Mexican Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources.
Despite a massive two-year plan to save the vaquita, including a ban on gillnetting in the porpoises' habitat, the population has continued to decline largely due to China's unrelenting and illegal fishery for the totoaba. This large fish, whose swim bladders bring exorbitant prices in China, is believed to be an
aphrodisiac with no evidence to support this claim.
Now, the dolphin team will turn its particular set of skills toward the vaquita. Plans are to use the bottlenose dolphins to locate and capture a few vaquitas and transport them to a safe location.
The bottlenose would be used to identify the vaquita by their echolocation signals and notify their Navy handlers.
If the captured vaquitas were then to breed, that would be ideal, but Dr. Barbara Taylor* of NOAA is not raising her hopes. The team just hopes to keep a few vaquitas alive.
Eventually, the goal is to return the tiny porpoises to the waters in the Gulf where they came from. Dr. Taylor said that even as the capture plans continue, it's a plan with huge risks and some environmental groups are opposed. While opposed to captivity, even though they will not be in tanks, we realize this is a last-ditch effort. We hope that it is successful.