By José Antonio Pérez
Nearly five million dollars have been invested in the first phase of a program aimed at preserving the endangered Vaquita Marina in the Upper Gulf of California. The effort, entitled “Vaquita CPR” (Conservation, Protection and Reproduction), launched October 11th will run through Nov. 11th, with the goal of locating vaquita in the region through the use of four bottle-nosed US Army trained dolphins.
The dolphins, Andrea, Fathom, Katrina, and Splash, are part of the first phase of the program meant to seek out any of the estimated 30 vaquita. Upcoming phases include capture, evaluation, temporary removal, and reproduction.
Lorenzo Rojas Bracho, head of CIRVA and in charge of the rescue effort in San Felipe, Baja California, detailed the long-term goal is to have a sanctuary for the vaquita with hope they will continue to reproduce. He remarked they foresee additional projects such as cultivating tissue from the vaquita marina to freeze in liquid nitrogen so that other recovery efforts may be developed in the future, such as cloning or tissue manipulation.
The sanctuary facilities include a corral measuring 45 meters in diameter located 1.5 nautical miles from Cerro del Machorro, which is being safeguarded by the Mexican navy ship. The Vaquita Care Center, which is similar to a tent, was designed by doctors who are part of the CPR program and is equipped with an operating room, two pools, and four sponge based stretchers to buffer any vibration at the time of possible transfer of the vaquita.
There are currently two sites considered important for conservation of the vaquita, one being the natural protected area of the Upper Gulf of California and Rio Colorado Delta Biosphere Reserve and the Vaquita Marina Refuge, decreed in 2005. The refuge, which encompasses 14,000 sq. kilometers, was determined by scientists based on the concentration of vaquita marina close to the municipality of San Felipe.