Many dolphins were trained by U.S. Navy to pinpoint the location of the vaquita porpoise, an elusive animal which is critically endangered. The marine biologists aim to capture the remaining specimens and place them in a special enclosure.
Then, they will develop breeding programs to save the species from extinction. This initiative is encouraged by the Navy Marine Mammal Program, which will support the training of dozens of dolphins.
The program will start this spring. According to the officials, the handlers are still planning the dolphins’ involvement. These friendly mammals will use their sonar to find any vaquita porpoise. Then, they will come out to the surface to draw their handlers’ attention.
The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered and smallest porpoise species in the world. This animal lives in the Gulf of California. Also known as totoaba, the vaquitas were devastated by illegal fishing over the past few decades.
The swim bladder of this animal is worth a fortune on the Chinese black market. It is worth mentioning that this is not the first time when dolphins are used in a large-scale project. U.S. Navy has previously trained these intelligent creatures to locate sea mines.
The vaquita porpoise has never been kept in captivity, so it is the first time when scientists try to successfully breed this species in an artificial environment. The specialists will design floating pens in the Gulf of California, which will be the new home for the remaining vaquitas.
According to Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, chair of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, the specimens living in the floating enclosures will be protected from fishing nets.
He says that Mexico banned gill nets, but the problems were not over. Many poachers are willing to take their chances to catch a vaquita porpoise because it is still in high demand on the illegal Chinese market.
Based on the estimates, this species will become extinct by 2022, if the conservation efforts don’t pay off. The vaquita porpoise population has been declining by 40% every year. Worse, only 60 live specimens were recorded last year.
In other words, it means that there might be just around 30 vaquitas left in the Gulf of California. Nevertheless, other specialists believe that this project is risky and potentially dangerous because the marine biologists can accidentally harm the vaquitas in their attempt to capture them.
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