Next month will see the start of a Hail Mary effort to save the rapidly dwindling population of vaquitas in the Gulf Of California. Great backstory on why the vaquita is disappearing in this Hakai article, which describes the upcoming effort thus:
This October, Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) plans to launch a Hail Mary that will cost more than $5-million in 2017 alone to round up as many vaquitas as possible, and hold them in captivity for as long as it takes to make their habitat safe. Scientists, veterinarians, and experts from organizations in Mexico, the United States, and other countries hope to find them by using acoustic monitors, visual observers, and trained US Navy dolphins. Then, they’ll place nets in their path, and if they can catch them, immediately disentangle them and transport them to temporary open-water enclosures in the Upper Gulf until a more permanent sanctuary can be developed. It’s risky: not all porpoise species tolerate captivity. Even if vaquitas turn out to be among those that do, little is known about what they need to thrive and breed. “We have to be incredibly rapid students of how to deal with fully captive populations and be in there for the long term,” says Barbara Taylor, lead of the US-based Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal Genetics Program and a key member of CIRVA. “It’s going to be decades.”
It’s unclear how many vaquitas will be left to catch. This past spring, Jaramillo-Legorreta quietly deployed a handful of acoustic monitors a few months earlier than usual. Then, not long before vaquitas reached peak media visibility in June—with US movie star Leonardo DiCaprio and Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim, throwing their weight behind vaquita conservation efforts—CIRVA revealed that the creatures had all but disappeared. The monitors detected vaquitas only twice, far fewer times than anticipated. Until results are in from this summer’s full monitoring effort, “the data are hard to interpret,” Taylor says. But they “make us very worried.”
As I say, total Hail Mary. And an opportunity for marine park trainers to put some of their experience to real conservation for once (see this urgent call for trainers to help care for any vaquitas that are captured and moved to a net pen).
Of course it would be nice if we managed our fishing industries, and poverty, well enough to avoid this sort of crisis. Not to mention putting an end to the Asia-driven poaching of all sorts of rare and fragile species around the globe. But until our species gets its act together, any and all nonhuman species-saving strategies, no matter how unlikely or hare-brained, are well worth the effort.