MEXICO CITY – The Mexican government, working with experts and scientists, plans a major expansion of efforts to save the Gulf of California harbor porpoise, a rare marine mammal known in Mexico as the “vaquita” (sea cow), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said Wednesday.
The Conservation, Protection and Recovery (CPR) project, which will be launched on Thursday, is designed to save the last 30 vaquitas in the wild and relocate them temporarily to a marine sanctuary in the Upper Gulf of California while officials work to remove fishing nets, the main threat to the marine mammals, from the ecosystem.
The CPR is a highly risky strategy, but the project is necessary to save the species from extinction, WWF Mexico director Jorge Rickards said.
“WWF supports the CPR with the sole objective of returning to a healthy population of vaquitas in their natural surroundings and, as a result, our principal interest is to assure there is a healthy Upper Gulf of California free of fishing nets, a place where wildlife and local communities can prosper,” Rickards said.
The WWF does not plan to take part in the capture and relocation operation because it does not have expertise in these areas.
The conservation group, however, will provide support for acoustic monitoring, a task that is essential for locating the remaining vaquitas.
The WWF will assist in the removal of fishing nets, many of them illegal, to support the project and help the rare porpoises survive.
Many of the fishing nets that threaten the vaquitas were used by fishermen going after the totoaba, an endangered fish species that is highly prized on the black market, where it sells for thousands of dollars per kilo.
The vaquita is threatened by fishing in its habitat in the Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta Biosphere Reserve in the Gulf of California.
Vaquitas, protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, grow to around 1.5 meters (five feet) and weigh up to 50 kilos (110 pounds).
The vaquita reproduces slowly, giving birth every two years, and the marine mammals are considered the most endangered cetaceans in the world.
Listed as endangered since 1976, less than 100 vaquitas are believed left in Mexico.