Mex­ico says en­dan­gered vaquita por­poise died in cap­tiv­ity

Sun.Star Pampanga - - SCIENCE! -

EXICO CITY (AP) — Re­searchers were thrilled have cap­tured one of the few re­main­ing vaquita por­poises, but an­nounced Sun­day that the adult fe­male died af­ter a few hours in cap­tiv­ity in a float­ing pen, rais­ing ques­tions about the last­ditch ef­fort to en­close the world’s small­est por­poises to save them from ex­tinc­tion.

Crit­ics, and even sup­port­ers of the in­ter­na­tional res­cue ef­fort, knew the plan was full of risks: The small marine mam­mals na­tive to Mex­ico’s Gulf of Cal­i­for­nia have never been held in cap­tiv­ity, much less bred there.

But with es­ti­mates of the re­main­ing pop­u­la­tion fall­ing be­low 30, the in­ter­na­tional team of ex­perts known as Vaquita CPR felt they had no choice. In late Oc­to­ber, re­searchers cap­tured a vaquita calf but quickly freed it be­cause it was show­ing signs of stress and was too young to sur­vive with­out its mother.

On Satur­day, the team felt its luck had turned when it caught a fe­male in re­pro­duc­tive age. Mex­ico’s en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­tary, Rafael Pac­chi­ano, tweeted a photo of the vaquita in a net sling late Satur­day, say­ing: “This is a great achieve­ment that fills us with hope.”

The vaquita was taken to a pro­tected float­ing pen in the Gulf of Cal­i­for­nia in the hopes that it would sur­vive, and pos­si­bly breed if more vaquitas could be cap­tured.

But on Sun­day, the team said, “Vet­eri­nar­i­ans mon­i­tor­ing the vaquita’s health no­ticed the an­i­mal’s con­di­tion be­gan to de­te­ri­o­rate and made the de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­lease.”

“The re­lease at­tempt was un­suc­cess­ful and life-sav­ing mea­sures were ad­min­is­tered,” the team wrote. “De­spite the heroic ef­forts of the ve­teri­nary team, the vaquita did not sur­vive.”

“The en­tire res­cue team is heart­bro­ken by this dev­as­tat­ing loss” wrote the team, which is us­ing U.S. Navy-trained dol­phins to help find the elu­sive species in the up­per Gulf of Cal­i­for­nia, also known as the Sea of Cortez. “The risk of los­ing a vaquita dur­ing field op­er­a­tions was al­ways ac­knowl­edged as a pos­si­bil­ity, but it was de­ter­mined that it was un­ac­cept­able to stand by and watch the vaquita por­poise dis­ap­pear with­out a heroic at­tempt at res­cue.”

If it proves im­pos­si­ble to safely cap­ture vaquitas, ex­perts say an all-out ef­fort will be needed to save them in their nat­u­ral habi­tat. Vaquita pop­u­la­tions have been dec­i­mated by il­le­gal nets used to catch to­toaba fish, whose swim blad­der is prized in China.

“We are deeply sad­dened to learn that the vaquita cap­tured on Satur­day has died. We are con­fi­dent that the ex­perts in­volved in the cap­ture did their best,” said Ale­jan­dro Oliv­era, the Mex­ico rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity. “How­ever, this should be a re­minder for the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment that ‘Plan A’ should never be for­got­ten. To truly pro­tect these in­cred­i­ble lit­tle por­poises, the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment must once and for all get deadly gill­nets out of the vaquita’s habi­tat.”

Mex­ico has moved to ban gill­net fish­ing in the area, mounted a cam­paign to con­fis­cate nets, and is try­ing to stop il­le­gal fish­ing. But given the enor­mously high prices that to­toaba swim blad­ders fetch on the black mar­ket, fish­er­men have used go-fast boats and stealth tac­tics that are hard to stop.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion unit of the fed­eral At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice said Sun­day that author­i­ties had seized four miles (6.4 kilo­me­ters) of nets, 5 met­ric tons of shrimp, and one shrimp boat as part of en­force­ment ef­forts in the sec­ond half of Oc­to­ber. Author­i­ties also seized three smaller boats and four ve­hi­cles.

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