Last gasp for rare porpoise
PLAN TO SAVE THE VAQUITA IS SERIOUSLY FLAWED, SAY CRITICS, AND DOES NOT ADDRESS UNDERLYING ISSUES.
Why the plan to save the vaquita could be flawed
Avaquita has died after being caught by an international team of experts that is trying to save the species from extinction.
The female porpoise was taken to a floating sea pen in the northern Gulf of California (the only place on Earth where the species lives) in early November, but its condition deteriorated rapidly in captivity.
The legal and illegal use of gillnets has reduced the vaquita population to less than 30 individuals, making it the world’s rarest marine mammal.
As a result, the Mexican Government, along with some US conservation NGOs and others, set up Vaquita Conservation Protection and Recovery (Vaquita CPR) to take some of the last remaining animals into captivity to safeguard the future of the species. One calf had previously been taken and released.
Very little is known about vaquitas, and they have never been kept in an aquarium. “I understand why they are taking this step – they are at their wits’ end, and they believe it’s the only way to save the species,” says Clare Perry, oceans campaign leader for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “But as we have tragically seen, it is a very drastic measure that sadly has a very limited chance of success.”
But Perry says her main criticism was that the Mexican Government had given the green light to the legalisation of fishing for the totoaba fish, a species highly valued in China for its swimbladder. The main threat to vaquitas, and what has caused a catastrophic crash in the population in recent years, is becoming entangled in gillnets set to catch totoabas (and other target fish).
Mexico’s environment secretary, Rafael Pacchiano, says the government wanted to bring totoaba fishing under control because it could be a source of significant economic activity for the people of the region.
The EIA and others, have also criticised Pacchiano for suggesting the vaquita recovery plan could attract tourists to the area.
A vaquita calf was caught in mid-October but then released.