Saving the Vaquita

“30”

That is the number of days in an average month.

There are 30 teams in the NBA.

And there are 30 tracks on The Beatle’s The White Album.

It is also how many vaquitas scientists believe exist on the planet.

The vaquita is a type of porpoise, the world’s smallest in fact and also the single most endangered marine mammal.

vaquita image 2
© Thomas A. Jefferson/VIVA Vaquita

Living only in the upper reaches of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), these small, strikingly-marked cetaceans are the very definition of critically endangered.

A gill net fishery that is now heavily centered on another endangered species-the totoaba (fish), vaquitas often end up tangled in the nets and either killed or left to die.

“The issue facing the vaquita is emblematic of larger impacts that humans are having on our oceans,” said world renown marine artist and conservationist Dr. Guy Harvey.

“From unsustainable fishing practices to marine pollution to changing ocean chemistry, human behavior is negatively affecting ocean health. As the human population continues to increase, we will depend on our oceans even more and need to ensure that we are using these resources in a sustainable manner to benefit future generations.”

Harvey has partnered with Sea World to raise funds for Vaquita CPR an international effort to save the species by creating a “Save the Vaquita” line of items that will be sold at Sea World Parks and through Dr. Harvey’s properties in which 15 percent of proceeds go directly to conservation efforts.

“I was proud to paint my first ever vaquita porpoise in support of SeaWorld and VaquitaCPR’s efforts to save this species that is on the brink of extinction,” Harvey said.

In addition Sea World has donated an additional $120,000 to the project.

“The plight of the vaquita porpoise illustrates the devastation the illegal wildlife trade can inflict on a species,” said Dr. Chris Dold, SeaWorld’s Chief Zoological Officer.

“We are proud to partner with Guy Harvey to help educate people about this crisis and raise money toward a solution. The Vaquita CPR effort is an extraordinary, last ditch attempt to prevent the extinction of a porpoise species that is only found right here in North America. We at SeaWorld care deeply about the ocean, and we care especially about the animals that live there. We can not sit idly by as another animal goes extinct.”

vaquita image 1
© Thomas A. Jefferson/VIVA Vaquita

According to Vaquita CPR which is spearheaded by the National Marine Mammal Foundation the Mexican government has determined that emergency action is needed to temporarily remove some of the remaining animals from their threatening environment and create a safe haven for them in the northern Gulf of California.

An emergency conservation plan has been developed by an international team of experts, with field recovery operations set to begin in May 2017. Catching and caring for vaquitas may prove impossible, but unless we try, the species will likely vanish.

A project like this might indeed seem impossible. After all, is there any hope for a species that only has 30 representatives?

In 1987 there were only 22 California condors. Now there are more than 400.

The black-footed ferret was thought extinct in the early 1980s and then a population of a few dozen was found. Now, thanks to captive breeding and active monitoring efforts there are around 1,200 in the wild.

Yes, the fact vaquitas are ocean dwellers complicates things but there is still hope. The common denominator for all endangered species success stories is people taking action.

And that is what a coalition of people are doing right now.

Let’s do what we can to help the vaquita by supporting those who are supporting efforts to save this beautiful, severely endangered marine mammal.

Chester Moore, Jr.

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