There's a high probability of vaquita porpoises going extinct very soon, and there's only a small window of opportunity to do anything about it. They are often caught via illegal fishing and by-catch from legal fishing, which results in their death, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates there are fewer than 30 vaquita left in the wild today.
Image Credit: Paula Olson/NOAA
A fish dubbed totoaba are known to swim amongst the vaquitas; these fish are valuable in China because their bladders are considered a delicacy, so fishing for these totoaba with the use of gilnets has also inadvertently resulted in the captures and killings of countless vaquita over the years.
Some of the best minds in animal conservation have started brainstorming ways to protect the species, but everyone knows it won’t be an easy task. Ideas like collection and relocation have been introduced to the table, as have stricter laws and harsher penalties for anyone who endangers a vaquita with dated fishing techniques, but solutions have been few and far in between as governments drag their feet.
Vaquitas are found within the Gulf of California, which is Mexico’s jurisdiction for the most part. On the other hand, the United States wants a part in saving the species as well. If the Chinese government would outlaw the trading of totoaba, this would help massively with the move to save vaquitas by reducing the number of fishers that are out there endangering the porpoises in the process.
Since many potential solutions are out of reach, Mexico’s Environment Minister Rafael Pacchiano has another plan that sounds crazy, but could work: using dolphins trained by the United States Navy to round up vaquitas into a sanctuary where they’ll be safe from all the dangers that threaten their existence today.
The collaboration with the United States Navy has reportedly already started, but some complications have delayed the plan’s implementation thus far.
"We've spent the past year working alongside the US Navy with a group of dolphins they had trained to search for missing SCUBA divers. We've been training them to locate the vaquitas," Pacchiano said in to Formula in a radio interview.
"We have to guarantee we capture the largest possible number of vaquitas to have an opportunity to save them."
The Mexican government is also said to have permanently banned the use of gilnets in regions where vaquita are known to exist, which should help reduce the number of illegal catches significantly.
Although the special dolphin squad plan sounds a bit far-fetched, many animal conservation agencies around the world are applauding and cheering over the action taken jointly by the Mexican and United States’ governments because it’s a step in the right direction.
It’s not too late to save the vaquita if we can round up enough of them and get them to a safe place. The trick will be getting to them quickly enough before it’s too late. It should be interesting to see what results of the efforts, but we can only hope for the best at this point in time.