Dolphins Could Help Save Endangered Porpoises

Have you ever heard of a vaquita? It’s a porpoise that is considered by some to be the world’s most rare marine mammal.

Sadly, vaquitas are on the brink of extinction.

How critical is the situation? A report from experts last year estimated that just 60 individuals remain.

Found only in the northern Gulf of California, vaquitas die by getting caught up in gillnets used in illegal fishing operations in marine protected areas within Mexico’s Gulf of California.

These net-related deaths are so common that more than half of the population has been lost in the last three years, according to the WWF.

But have no fear—dolphins are here to potentially save the day.

(In case you’re wondering, yes–there’s a difference between a dolphin and a porpoise.) Think of vaquitas as the cuter (as if that’s possible) cousin of the dolphin.

Dolphins tend to have longer, more prominent “beaks” and cone-shaped teeth, while porpoises have shorter mouths and spade-shaped teeth. Also, a dolphin’s dorsal fin is curved while the porpoise’s is triangular. Dolphins are also more talkative and leaner than the slightly portlier porpoise.

So how on Earth could a dolphin save a porpoise from a fishing net deathtrap? LiveScience explains that a group of military dolphins, dubbed the Seal Team 6, which was specially trained by the U.S. Navy to use their deep-diving and sonar skills to locate undersea mines and such, could be the key to saving the vaquita population:

“In this last-ditch effort to save the porpoise species, conservationists hope that the dolphin squad would locate the remaining individuals in order for officials to relocate a handful of them to breed in captivity.”

So basically, dolphins would be used to locate vaquitas.  The AP explains that dolphins will use their natural sonar to locate the extremely elusive vaquitas, and then surface and advise their handlers.

Then the expert humans would take it from there. After cautiously capturing them, most likely they would put the porpoises into some kind of protective area, most likely a floating enclosure in a bay where they would not be endangered by fishing nets.

According to Jim Fallin of the U.S. Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, the dolphins’ participation is still in the planning stage.

The end goal may be to save this dwindling species, but not everyone agrees with this tactic.

“Catch-and-enclose is risky,” reports the AP. “The few remaining females could die during capture, dooming the species. Breeding in captivity has successfully saved species such as the red wolf and California condor, but the vaquita has only been scientifically described since the 1950s and has never been bred or even held in captivity.”

So even if vaquitas are successfully (a.k.a. safely) rounded up, it’s too soon to tell how they’ll handle captivity and if they’ll breed in a captive environment.

If the dolphin plan does move forward, the recovery team goal will be to return vaquita from the temporary sanctuary into a gillnet-free environment.

Experts stressed that the capture program “should not divert effort and resources away from extension and enforcement of the gillnet ban, which remains the highest-priority conservation actions for the species.”

My sentiments exactly. Luckily, there’s something super easy you can do to help make that happen. Sign this Care2 petition: Ban Fishing Nets That Kill Endangered Porpoises.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

102 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogers10 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogers10 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogers10 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogers10 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rogers10 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Marie W
Marie W2 years ago

Thank you for sharing

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Tin Ling L
Tin Ling L2 years ago

thanks you

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Misss D
Shari F2 years ago

I think is the only way out for this species, otherwise they will just become totally extinct, like the Baiji (Yangtze River Dolphin). It went extinct because people were too cautious about rounding them up and putting them somewhere safe, instead insisting that gill net enforcement in their habitat would save them. It didn't. Breeding in a safe area like a large sea pen is the only way forward in the short term. They will go extinct otherwise - no two ways about it.

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Nang Hai C
Nang Hai C2 years ago

thanks for posting

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George L
George L2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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