Should we breed the vaquita in captivity?

For as long as we have known about the vaquita, gillnets have been killing more individuals than are being born. The upper Gulf of California has been a danger zone for the species ever since humans started fishing there, and unfortunately, vaquita don’t live anywhere else.

Yet.

Even though gillnets are now permanently banned in the vaquita’s range, there will still be illegal fishing if compensation and/or nighttime enforcement issues are not fixed immediately. These are indeed desperate times. So desperate, in fact, that no option is off the table when it comes to salvaging this species.

The idea of ex-situ conservation (captive breeding) for the vaquita has not been given much thought, until recently.

Here is ¡VIVA Vaquita!’s official position statement on the issue:

“The issue of possible live-captures and ex-situ conservation (generally known as captive breeding) of the vaquita has recently been much talked about and debated. This results from the 2016 CIRVA report, which for the first time, recommended evaluation of the prospects and steps needed for captive breeding of the species, as part of the conservation plan. This is a very complex issue, and there are a variety of different views within our organization on this proposal.

After detailed discussion, ¡VIVA Vaquita! has come to a consensus. Due to the undeniable fact that the current efforts to stop the decline of the species (however, well-intentioned) are simply not working, we are not opposed to evaluating and considering ex-situ conservation measures for this species. However, we emphasize that the primary focus and priority for long-term conservation of the species must be in-situ—that is protection and recovery of the species in its natural habitat. That can only happen with a permanent and complete cessation of all gillnet fishing within the species range. This is an absolute pre-requisite to any attempts to save the species, and must remain the top priority. Any work towards captive breeding efforts must not in any way decrease the focus, resources, or funding applied to maintaining and effectively enforcing the gillnet ban.”

We will not allow the vaquita to go extinct, which means if captive breeding is the only option left, we will try our best to accomplish it. There is still a long way to go in terms of determining whether or not it would be safe for the animals (some porpoise species do well in captivity), or how we would do it (underwater pen in the Gulf, tank on land, etc.), but if necessary, we could have captive vaquitas by next year. Too much later, and there may be no vaquitas left to save.

To learn more, check out these in-depth articles:

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/07/scientists-mull-risky-strategy-save-world-s-most-endangered-porpoise

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2016/jun/08/vaquita-captive-breeding-ex-situ-panda-porpoise-extinction

And listen to this interview with the always-wonderful Barb Taylor:

http://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/how-can-we-keep-the-endangered-vaquita-from-vanishing/

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60 Vaquitas remain

The results from last year’s survey are in, and as of fall 2015, there are 60 Vaquitas left on the planet.

This new population estimate was released during the seventh meeting of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) last week.

And in case you were wondering, 60 is a very small number when you are talking about the amount of individuals left in an entire species. There is a good chance you saw more than 60 people today. You probably have more than 60 Facebook friends. Look around. I bet you could find 60 of something lying around your house or in your yard right now. You could go outside and count 60 birds in no time.

However, seeing this many Vaquitas would mean seeing every last one in existence.

This new figure demonstrates that the Vaquita is still declining at a rapid pace, despite valiant efforts from the Mexican government and conservationists alike. Nighttime Totoaba poaching is rampant. Three dead Vaquitas were found in March alone. The two-year ban ends in less than a year.

Our work is certainly not done.

If we are going to save the Vaquita, it will require international cooperation at a level that has never been accomplished in the history of conservation. That may sound impossible, but we have reason for hope. Over the next few months, the Vaquita will receive more attention than it (or almost any endangered species, for that matter) ever has.

Since the new population estimate was released, hundreds of articles have been published by the world’s most prominent news outlets highlighting the dire situation of the Vaquita.

Articles such as this one will help bolster awareness of the Vaquita’s plight tremendously.

But that’s not all.

This Sunday, May 22, at 8 pm ET/PT (check local listings) on CBS, there will be an episode of 60 Minutes with a feature story on the Vaquita!

Please be sure to give it a watch and let all your friends know! Millions of people will see it and hopefully be inspired to save the Vaquita. If you are already inspired, you can start immediately with the best way to help: sign our petition to make the gillnet ban permanent.

And of course, the biggest day of the year for the Vaquita is approaching fast: International Save the Vaquita Day 2016 is on July 9, and it is going to be massive.

This is the Year of the Vaquita after all, and if this event is not successful in uniting people around the world for the Vaquita’s cause, the species could be extinct before Christmas.

Wild Lens (now an official member of VIVA Vaquita!) has just released a short film (below) about the Vaquita, highlighting the many sides of this extremely complex issue.

They plan to release the accompanying feature-length documentary, Souls of the Vermilion Sea, in 2018.

Souls of the Vermilion Sea: Searching for the Vaquita from Wild Lens on Vimeo.

Three live Vaquitas spotted!

Last month’s headline was “Three dead Vaquitas found.”

In a very welcome twist of fate, this month’s headline is the exact opposite.

From April 11 to 14, Drs. Barbara Taylor and Jay Barlow joined the crew of the Sea Shepherd M/Y Farley Mowat. Their goal was to spot Vaquitas, and they accomplished this goal in a big way. Between April 12 and 13, they spotted three separate Vaquitas, igniting even more optimism and hope for the future of this species.

However, these three individuals were seen in areas that are known to currently host rampant illegal fishing activity.

Click here to read more.

Sea Shepherd also used a drone to spot poachers using a gillnet at night. The fishermen quickly fled (their location was relayed to the Mexican Navy) and left their net behind, which Sea Shepherd retrieved from the water. Two scalloped hammerhead sharks and four cownose rays were already entangled, and unfortunately, the endangered hammerheads could not be saved. Since January, Sea Shepherd has removed 40 illegal gillnets and 13 longlines from the Vaquita’s range.

Sadly, Sea Shepherd is departing from the Gulf of California in the first week of May.

They will be arriving in San Diego on May 6, and we would like to give them a global “thank you” celebration for all of the amazing work they have done, and to show them that their efforts in the northern Gulf are highly appreciated (and desired again in the very near future). More updates to come on this.

From May 10 to 14, the 7th meeting of CIRVA, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, will take place. The focus of this meeting will be the publication of the latest population estimate, based on acoustic surveys and the fall 2015 expedition.

A new course of action will be discussed based on this new estimate, and we all hope that the number is higher than expected/feared.

Regardless of the new population estimate, we will continue our efforts will full force. Our main goal is for the Mexican government to agree to our petition to make the gillnet ban permanent, and we can’t accomplish this without your help. Please sign and share this petition. For the Vaquita.

tinyurl.com/vaquitaban

Petition Poster

Bad news

I am deeply saddened by the news that there are likely less than 100 Vaquitas remaining on the planet, with under 25 of them being reproductive females. The International Vaquita Recovery Team, CIRVA, has just published the findings of their 5th meeting here: http://www.iucn-csg.org/index.php/2014/08/02/the-vaquita-new-report-from-cirva-released/, with more information coming soon from the Mexican Presidential Commission on Vaquita Conservation at this site: http://www.iucn-csg.org/.

The issue has quickly become a worldwide news story, being covered by the Washington Post (below) and ABC News among others.

The reason of their decline remains the same: accidental capture due to illegal gillnet fishing. But it now appears that there is a culprit more damaging than the shrimp fishery: Totoaba. A critically endangered species in its own right, Totoaba has been illegally hunted for years due to the incredibly high market value of their swim bladders. Particularly in China, these organs are a delicacy that can fetch over $10,000 per bladder. The temptation is simply too good to be true for the local fishermen, no matter how illegal it may be. As one of NOAA’s Vaquita experts Jay Barlow says, “With two days of fishing, you can buy a new pickup truck.”:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/china-bladder-trade-sending-porpoise-to-extinction/2014/08/01/3b317cf8-19ba-11e4-88f7-96ed767bb747_story.html

We all feel a little hopeless right now. It seems almost impossible to save the Vaquita. But I’m here to tell you that the fight is not over. Everybody has fought too hard for too long to give up now. These next few years could go down in history as the biggest success story in conservation history if we can turn things around. It is now in the hands of our governments, so we need to do something to get them to permanently remove gillnets from the Vaquita’s range. Hopefully there are some petitions in the works, so in the meantime, please use social media to our advantage. Spread the word in any way you can. It will be unexplainably devastating if we lose the Vaquita, so please, everybody, we need to work together and do something to save everyone’s favorite little Mexican porpoise. Check back here for the latest updates on the situation. Thank you.

 

 

4th report

When I suggested reading the 4th Report of CIRVA, I myself didn’t even read it. However, a few days ago, I thought, I might as well read it. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Boy am I glad I forced down all 48 grueling pages. Not only was it the most detailed Vaquita paper I have ever read, it was the most optimistic. There is too much information in there for me to fully recap, but basically it states the Vaquita has a chance if the conservation process is accelerated. I strongly recommend reading it: http://www.vivavaquita.org/PDF/CIRVA2012.pdf. It actually is more fun than reading a novel.

CIRVA

The Mexican government assembled a committee of international experts to assess the necessary methods to save the Vaquita. The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA) previously met in 1997, 1999, and 2004. Members of CIRVA met again in February 2012 and reviewed progress of the Vaquita since the last meeting. The CIRVA recommendations are in this report:

Executive summary in Spanish: http://bit.ly/ID2sQS

In English: http://bit.ly/Hrgm92

The Vaquita population is still declining and is probably made up of under 200 individual Vaquitas.