Here's an incredibly innovative way to save a critically endangered animal I bet most of us have never thought of!
Who has heard of a vaquita? I know I hadn't until last year when I remember running across Sea Sheppard's Operation Milagro in the Sea of Cortez. I immediately pulled up as many pictures of this adorable, and smallest, member of the cetacean family as I could find. They are so cute they look like little toys. They are so shy that most people who are in search of them cannot find them. This includes scientists and conservationists who are using hi-tech tracking equipment. Recently, via an article on theverge.com, the magical vaquita has surfaced in the news again.
Sadly, there are ways to find these little guys, and this is the problem. Local fishermen use gillnets to try to catch a fish called a totoaba. This is a big fish with a huge swim bladder that is very popular in many kinds of traditional Asian medicines. The illegal gillnets have killed so many of the vaquitas that there may only be about 60 individual animals left alive on the planet. The problem is so important it actually caught the attention of the president of Mexico last year, and he put a 2-year emergency ban on gillnets into effect. But it wasn't enough, and vaquitas are still dying.
Fortunately, it always amazes me how creative humans can be when we really put our hearts and souls into a great cause.
Enter the US Navy and its team of hi-tech bottlenose dolphins. The US Navy has been using bottlenose dolphins for decades to find and disarm underwater explosives. And now? The hi-tech dolphin team is going to be working for our cause too….ocean conservation!!!!!!!
The plan is to get the navy's dolphins to search for vaquitas, rather than mines, but using the same training and techniques. Then, after the vaquitas have been found, they can be safely captured and transported to a temporary sanctuary. This plan will mean that at least a few of these wonderful creatures can be spared while the illegal fishing is brought under control.
I am amazed and thrilled at the idea that the US Navy is involved in the fight to save such a beautiful and rare marine creature. Hopefully these efforts will pay off, and I will be able to see a vaquita in person next time I visit the Sea of Cortez!
Does anyone know of any other marine conservation projects that the US Navy is devoting its resources toward?
Thanks to theverge.com, icun-csg.org and marinemammalcenter.org for the resources needed to share this story with you.