Dolphins to be used in efforts to rescue vaquita marina

By José Antonio Pérez

Three dolphins are currently preparing for a tremendous mission, which is perhaps one of the last efforts to save the vaquita marina (phocoena sinus) from extinction.  It is estimated there are currently fewer than 40 vaquita, the world’s smallest cetacean mammal, in its natural habitat of the Gulf of California.

The plan is, beginning in September, three dolphins trained by the U.S. Marines will search for the vaquita in the Sea of Cortez and guide them to a sanctuary in San Rafael Bay.

“There has never been a similar effort in any part of the world,” noted Environmental Secretary Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, noting, “We have spent a year training the dolphins to locate the vaquita.”

The dolphins are generally trained to find divers lost at sea, but now are preparing for another type of search.  In their first drills, the dolphins were able to locate harbor porpoise, a marine mammal similar to the vaquita, in the San Francisco Bay area of California.

Mexican authorities hope the dolphins will be able to carry out a “shepherd” mission, so the vaquita will be able to reproduce in the refuge area of San Rafael.

“We have to guarantee we can capture the greatest number of vaquita, and within the least amount of time possible, in order to save them,” stressed the Secretary of the Environment.

Along with these steps, he added, specialists have been working on designing another type of net that will prevent the death of other species, including the vaquita and dolphins.

Pacchiano Alamán detailed the new nets will go into massive testing in upcoming months. In addition, an investment of nearly 55 million dollars promoted by businessman Carlos Slim will assist in reforming the region’s economy in moving from economic dependency on fishing.

In the past, emergency actions led to saving the California condor in Mexico which went from solely 8 to approximately 400, along with the Isla de Guadalupe elephant seal, whose numbers went from just 20 to over 150,000, according to environment officials.

Given this, Pacchiano Alamán believes saving the vaquita is possible as, “it is not just for Mexicans, but rather the entire world.”

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