Last gasp for rare por­poise


BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - James Fair

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.

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