Vaquita Care Center in San Felipe, Baja California. Vaquita Care Center in San Felipe, Baja California.

Navy dolphins arrive for vaquita capture

Porpoises will be transferred to the new Vaquita Care Center in San Felipe

What might be the last stand in the fight to save the vaquita marina porpoise has begun with the arrival in the upper Gulf of California of four trained dolphins.

Andrea, Fathom, Katrina and Splash arrived yesterday in San Felipe, Baja California, where they’ll spend the next month helping a team of specialists locate vaquitas so they can be captured.

A team of scientists and veterinarians plans to transport the captured porpoises to a 46-square-meter pen at the new Vaquita Care Center, located in San Felipe, with the hope that they will breed and reverse the decline in numbers. It was estimated in November that only 30 remained.

The four bottlenose dolphins were trained by the United States Navy in San Francisco where they successfully located specimens of harbour porpoises.

Specialists said only the “less stressed” specimens of vaquita will be transported to the center where medical and behavioral evaluations will be conducted to determine their suitability for holding in human care.

It is the first of four phases in the rescue effort being carried out by the Consortium for Vaquita Conservation, Protection and Recovery, or VaquitaCPR, an umbrella group of organizations being led by Mexico’s Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat.

Ultimately, VaquitaCPR’s plan is to provide long-term housing and encourage breeding of the species until gillnet fishing, one of the reasons for the vaquita’s decline, is eliminated and that vaquita-safe fishing practices are adopted.

At that point, it intends to reintroduce the porpoises to their natural environment in the upper Gulf of California.

The Vaquita Care Center also houses a veterinary facility equipped with an operating room, two pools and water filtration systems.

The medical facility can hold up to eight vaquitas at a time and is manned by 40 specialists.

The vaquita marina porpoise is not only the smallest known cetacean, it is also the most endangered, mostly due to having been bycatch in nets used for fishing totoaba, another endangered species, and shrimp.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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