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SAN FELIPE, BAJA, MEXICO — The Mexican government (SEMARNAT) and scientists from VaquitaCPR said today that field operations in the Gulf of California have come to a close as planned on November 10.
This weekend, VaquitaCPR, alongside an independent review panel, will carefully review the results of the field operations and will determine, through the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), the next actions for the conservation, protection and recovery of the endangered porpoise, and will then notify the Mexican government through a technical recommendation.
VaquitaCPR operations started in October and the team of 65 scientists from nine countries was on the water for five full days and eight partial days during the operational time frame. Partial days occurred when winds were too great for safe and effective field work during part of the day. Conditions on 11 days were too windy for any field work to occur.
Scientists reported vaquita sightings on eight out of 13 field days. In total, 32 confirmed sighting events of vaquitas were recorded, including probable repeat sightings over the course of a day. It is important to note that these sightings do not represent a population estimate. Sighting events involved one to three vaquitas, with an average group size of about two individuals. VaquitaCPR rescue teams deployed nets on three days and two vaquitas were captured during field operations.
The first animal, an immature female, was released after veterinarians determined she was not adapting to human care. The second animal, a mature female that wasn’t pregnant or lactating was released after not being able to adapt to human care at “El Nido.” During the second release, emergency medical care was required. Despite heroic efforts by the veterinary team to save the animal’s life, she did not survive. A necropsy (animal autopsy) was performed and samples were submitted for further analyses to better understand the cause of death. A full report will be issued when all information and analysis is complete. Fresh tissue samples from both specimens were transferred to specialized laboratories for genetic studies and tissue culture.
Because of the vaquita’s reaction toward human care, VaquitaCPR lead scientists made a unanimous recommendation to an independent review panel of experts to cease the capture portion of the operation. The independent review panel agreed with this recommendation. VaquitaCPR suspended catch operations on Nov. 4 and changed the operational focus to conducting photographic identification of individual animals, to better refine our understanding of abundance and ranging patterns.
Acoustic recording devices (CPODs) have been used throughout the VaquitaCPR project to help detect and locate vaquitas. A sampling grid of 36 sites was designed to monitor vaquita acoustic activities in the previously known zone of high activity. The sites covered mainly the central, southwest and west portions of the Vaquita Refuge. Acoustic detectors were deployed in this grid on Oct. 11 and were exchanged daily when weather allowed. Due to the dynamics of the acoustic detections, it was decided to deploy eight more acoustic detectors in the northeast portion of the Refuge on October 29. Hence, the grid was expanded to a total of 44 monitoring sites. In total, 112 acoustic encounters with vaquitas were gathered from 21 of the 44 sampling sites. Acoustic activity was very localized, mainly occurring in five sites. cientists used the acoustic encounters to determine which areas to focus on during efforts to locate vaquitas and this information can be used to concentrate long-term protection and monitoring efforts. Similar to sighting events, acoustic detections do not represent a population estimate.
“Vaquita conservation is part of the President’s agenda and will remain a top priority ” said Mexico’s Minister of the Environment Rafael Pacchiano Alamán in an interview yesterday, Nov. 9.
Conservation projects supported by the Mexican Government through the Ministry of the Environment (SEMARNAT) and the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) have also been working alongside of VaquitaCPR for the conservation of the vaquita. These projects include support for gillnet ban enforcement and gillnet removal, key conservation elements for the long-term survival of vaquita.
“While field operations end today, VaquitaCPR stands for Conservation, Protection and Recovery of the vaquita porpoise,” said Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, lead scientist from SEMARNAT for CIRVA and a lead scientist with VaquitaCPR “We will not give up, we will continue our efforts to save the vaquita.”
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VaquitaCPR is an international conservation program led by SEMARNAT in coordination with the National Marine Mammal Foundation, The Marine Mammal Center, and the Chicago Zoological Society. Key collaborators in Mexico include Instituto Nacional de Ecología and Climate Change (INECC), Asociación Mexicana de Hábitats para la Interacción y Protección de Mamíferos Marinos (AMHMAR), Museo de la Ballena, and Baja Aqua Farms. United States collaborators include Duke University and the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contributing technical support. World Wildlife Fund is contributing with acoustic monitoring and the retrieval of lost or abandoned “ghost” nets from vaquita habitat. European collaborators include Dolfinarium Harderwijk, Aarhus University, and Fjord&Baelt. Additional support and expertise has been offered from Dolphin Quest, SeaWorld, and the Vancouver Aquarium. VaquitaCPR operates as a private and public partnership, relying on both individual donors and government grants. VaquitaCPR has received generous financial support from the Mexican government, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Global Wildlife Conservation, Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums, Africam, International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association, Waitt Foundation, Disney Conservation Fund, YAQU PACHA, and the Firedoll Foundation. For more information, visit vaquitacpr.org
Global Wildlife Conservation
GWC preserves the diversity of life on Earth by protecting wildlands, conserving wildlife, and supporting local guardians. We maximize our impact through scientific research, biodiversity exploration, habitat preservation, endangered species protection, and environmental leadership development. Learn more at http://globalwildlife.org
Lindsay Renick Mayer
Global Wildlife Conservation