The RESCUE MISSION
Learn more about the VaquitaCPR Rescue Efforts
VaquitaCPR’s goal was to bring vaquitas into temporary human care until all gillnets for shrimp and finfish were banned and removed from their habitat. Particularly harmful are the illegal nets to catch a large fish, the totoaba, which is butchered for its swim bladder, smuggled to China and Hong Kong, and sold for thousands of dollars each. Along with the totoaba and masses of other marine life, vaquitas get entangled in these nets and drown. As we prepared for this bold conservation endeavor, the world’s best biologists and veterinarians joined our efforts. Read the details of the rescue plan here, and the scientific paper that summarizes how the project went and lessons we learned as we continue our work to save the world’s most endangered marine mammals.
WORDS FROM EXPERTS
"It was clear that if we did not take vaquitas into a save haven, under human care, they would be killed in gillnets used by illegal fishers. Any unexpected single event can drive a vulnerable species to extinction, and this can happen in a blink. Captive care is a potentially valuable but complex tool for recovering marine mammals. We have the ability through technology to determine almost in real time where vaquitas are living in the Gulf of California. That knowledge can advise enforcement agencies about where the vaquitas are and help protect the area from human activity. With the few remaining vaquitas in a small habitat, enforcement against illegal fishing can happen and I also believe agreement with fishing communities is possible. The vaquita is a very resourceful animal. If illegal fishing stops killing them, they will thrive."
"With both no sign that the 40-year rate of decline had been lessened by the gillnet ban and no sign that the number of nets being pulled during totoaba season was decreasing, an attempt had to be made to remove vaquitas from their critically dangerous habitat. Critically endangered species can rapidly accelerate down the slide towards extinction and need both efforts in the wild but also options to save them outside the wild far in advance of the need to use those options."
"An incredible team of experts from around the world, all of whom care deeply about the future of this little porpoise, gave our best efforts to try to save the vaquitas. Determining that our approach was not going to be successful was devastating. A recent re-sighting of an identifiable presumed mother with two different calves in two consecutive years gives some hope for the species to be able to eventually recover should the threats be removed. We also hope the lessons from VaquitaCPR will be taken to heart with regards to other declining populations and species of small cetaceans, and that conservation efforts, including ex situ options, will be considered while sufficient numbers remain to support the necessary testing of their viability."
“The VaquitaCPR efforts were a bold move and as they end, we urge all those who care about the vaquita to show similar courage and commitment to ensure a gillnet-free Upper Gulf of California. As difficult as the last few weeks have been, we have witnessed a small glimmer of hope for the vaquita and it is our collective responsibility to do all we can to ensure a safe and healthy home for vaquitas and the new calves we have seen. Safeguarding the vaquita’s habitat is our one – and only – chance to save the vaquita.”
"We had simply exhausted all other possible avenues for preventing the extinction of the vaquita. Despite the best intentions of the Government of Mexico, it had become clear that conservation actions on the ground - such as enforcing the vaquita refuge and gill net ban - would never be successful. There was simply no other option. It was an honor to participate in VaquitaCPR and to work alongside so many colleagues I respect and admire. From a personal perspective, one of my most powerful experiences was watching so many individuals, each at the very pinnacle of their professions, put aside their egos to work as a team toward a common goal."