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the ocean and its inhabitants.

Photo by Maris Sidenstecker II

Last Chance for the Vaquita

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 y.   
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  open  water pens with the  goal  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). Th e dolphins are part of a team being assembled on both sides of the border. The goal of this group w ill  be to capture live  vaquitas  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 vaquitaincluding 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.

*Dr. Barbara Taylor is a member of CIRVA, the Mexican Presidential Commission on Vaquita. She sits on the steering committees for the acoustic monitoring project and ongoing 2015 survey, co-chairs the expert panels to analyze the acoustic monitoring data and survey data. She works for the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries as the Program Leader for marine mammal genetics. She also chairs the Conservation Committee for the Society of Marine Mammalogy and leads the assessment of cetacean listing for the IUCN.

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Maris   Sidenstecker I 
President, Save The Whales 
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Save The Whales

Salinas Children With Whale Rib
Salinas children
 holding a whale rib

Many children from Salinas, California, have never visited the coast even though they may live just 20 or 30 miles away. They have neither a sense of physical nor emotional connection with the Monterey Bay.
The children live in watersheds that dra in to the Bay, yet often do not realize how pollution, such as litter and plastic bags, can enter storm drains on their street and could potentially harm marine life in the ocean.
The NOAA BWET grant, awarded to Save the Whales, gives students the opportunity to come to the beach. The children learn about their physical connection with the ocean, and why it is so important to protect ocean resources.
Students are able to touch whale artifacts (rib, vertebrae), build a blue whale on the beach, identify plants and birds led by Return of the Natives, and do their part in cleaning litter from the beach.

Save The Whales

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Checks are welcome.    
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Save The Whales

1192 Waring St.
Seaside CA 93955 

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