In 2008 the Baiji river dolphin, found only in China, was declared extinct. Now, less than a decade later another cetacean faces extinction, the Mexican vaquita porpoise. Many people have never heard of either of these animals and as marine educators we have an opportunity to share knowledge of this critical issue, a first step in supporting conservation efforts that may save the vaquita and perhaps several other cetaceans.
At the Aquarium of the Pacific we are working with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction program which hopes to leverage the resources and reach of zoos and aquariums across the country on critical animal conservation issues. Leading the charge in public outreach for the Vaquita SAFE program, the Aquarium of the Pacific is helping to coordinate messaging and outreach among dozens of organizations and institutions. As a first step, we have gathered the critical resources, images, graphics and fact sheets, and made them free to access and use for anyone wanting to participate. These will be made available on the AZA Vaquita SAFE page in the coming months.
The Vaquita Porpoise is found only in small region of the Northern Gulf of Mexico, an area about the size of Rhode Island. Today less than 60 remain within this range. Vaquita have suffered for decades, accidentally caught and killed in gillnets targeting fish and shrimp. Much of the shrimp in past years was exported legally into Southern California fish markets. Today, Mexico has banned fishing within the vaquita range in an effort to save the remaining population. However, illegal fishing is rampant and largely unchecked. Fisherman, who have little money or education, are turning to illegal fishing for a fish called the totoaba. Also endangered, the totoaba is caught for its swimbladder, called fish maw in china. One large swimbladder from a totoaba can fetch more than $10,000 in China and this is proving to be an irresistible lure for fishermen who have spent more than a year without fishing and a steady income.
The key to vaquita species survival is twofold. First, Mexico must step up enforcement of laws aimed at protecting the vaquita. Second, we must maintain pressure on both our government and the Mexican government to make sure everything is done to keep the vaquita from going extinct. This is how NMEA members can become heroes in the story of the vaquita. Please join the AZA and the Aquarium of the Pacific in spreading the word about the vaquita. Share and follow the hashtag #4aPorpoise on social media. Talk to your students, friends and audiences about the situation. And lastly, support sustainable seafood practices. While the vaquita is in a dire situation, the Hectors Dolphin, Irrawaddy Dolphin, and Finless Porpoise face similar threats and could soon be in the same position if we don’t address the issues of overfishing and bycatch.
- David Bader, NMEA President-elect
Director of Education, Aquarium of the Pacific
Watch David speak on this topic for the Aquarium of the Pacific via Facebook Live >>