Tiny Porpoise Gets Big Attention in Sea of Cortez
Last updated: Thursday, September 18, 2008 3:29:00 PM
Rapidly Disappearing — Killed by shark nets, these tiny vaquita porpoise are members of a species that is almost extinct. Mexico has pledged $16 million to help preserve remaining populations of this unique marine mammal, endemic to the Sea of Cortez.
The vaquita porpoise is so tiny and shy that its existence wasn’t described in science until 1958. Before the Upper Sea of Cortez Biosphere Reserve was created, commercial fishing took its toll.
Scientists believe the number of vaquita has dwindled during the last decade from more than 500 (in the “critically endangered” category) down to fewer than 150 individual vaquita left alive — meaning that the species is almost extinct.
Fortunately, the Mexican government recently promised to spend $16 million to save the vaquita. The funds will be used to make a comprehensive survey of the elusive marine mammal. Although once endemic to most of the Sea of Cortez, it is now believed to survive only in the small area between San Felipe, Roca Consag and the tidal mouth of the Colorado River.
“It’s a critical time for the vaquita,” said Peggy Turk Boyer, executive director of CEDO, a U.S.-Mexican institute that will help survey the vaquita population starting this fall. CEDO translates as the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans, which has a field station in Puerto Peñasco. Boyer said the Mexican government has stepped up to the plate to help save the vaquita. World Wildlife Fund, Vaquita Marina and other groups have been campaigning to protect the cute little porpoises for several years.
Vaquita funds will also be used to better enforce existing fishing restrictions ad environmental laws that affect the biosphere reserve.
SEMARNAT, the environmental protection agency, said it will now be able to replace dangerous fishing gear and educate the locals. They will remove and destroy older shark and shrimp nets that inadvertently kill vaquita and replace them with new vaquita-friendly nets.
Fishermen will be taught new methods, and they can opt for vocational training for new trades for making a living. At the same time, schoolchildren throughout Mexico are learning a song, “Abre Tu Corazón” or “Open Your Heart,” about protecting whales, dolphins and the little vaquita.
Yatistas in the upper reaches of the Sea of Cortez may want to help the vaquita survey or get involved in the project. You can learn more at www.cedointercultural.org.
— Capt. Pat Rains
This article first appeared in the September 2008 issue of The Log Newspaper. All or parts of the information contained in this article might be outdated.