US Naval dolphins used to save worlds most endangered porpoise

3rd Jul 2017

The vaquita the world's most rare marine mammal is on the edge of extinction. The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is the smallest marine mammal known to exist reaching only 1.5m in length. It was believed that just 20yrs ago there were 600 individuals living in the Gulf of California, the only place they are known to exist. Scientists now estimate that fewer than 30 individuals are still alive in this region. The crash in population is believed to be due to the illegal fishing of a species of fish called totoaba whose swim bladder is a prize jewel on the chinese market for its medicinal properties. To catch the totoaba the mexican fisheries use gillnets, gillnets are weighted mesh panels that can be set to any depth in the water column, due to the thin, stong polyfibre the nets are made from, it is easy for marine wildlife to become entangled in the net, and vaquitas have become a common victim. Based on its level of decline it is estimated that there is a window of about two years in which to implement a solution to save the species after which it'll likely be too late.

However, the Mexican Government has agreed that something must be done to stop this cetacean from going extinct. It is argued that only by catching the remaining individuals and protecting them in a sanctuary can the vaquita be saved. So in April 2017 the Mexican Government along with the US Association of Zoos and Aquariums set up a $4million mission to rescue the world's most endangered cetacean by using dolphins that have been trained by the US Navy to pinpoint the location of the vaquita within the Gulf of California. When found it is planned that the remaining individuals be caught and taken to a sanctuary in San Felipe where a captive breeding programme will begin. It is planned that researchers with acoustic sensors and the navy trained dolphins will be used over the next few months to find the vaquitas aand then in October they will try to catch the indivuals and take them to the sanctuary. 

There is a high possibility that this proposed solution has come too late for the vaquita, or there are possibly better ways to implement it. If you would like to find out more about the project and previous petitions and projects that have occurred to save the vaquita please visit the WDC and WWF websites:

WDC           WWF