MEXICO CITY – An aquarium with a diameter of 40 meters (131 feet) awaits the first Gulf of California harbor porpoises rescued as part of a project to save the rare marine mammals, the Mexican Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat said.
A boat belonging to the Whale Museum has spent the past few months ferrying the aquarium’s sections from Ensenada, a city on the Pacific coast, to the zone set aside in the Upper Gulf of California to protect the rare marine mammals, known in Mexico as the “vaquita” (sea cow), the AG’s office said in a statement.
Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Rafael Pacchiano Alaman, National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) representative Cynthia Smith and Mexican scientist Lorenzo Rojas toured the floating aquarium in the Upper Gulf of California on Monday.
The aquarium is 1.5 nautical miles offshore at a site protected from strong winds by El Machorro hill in Baja California state.
The floating aquarium, which is 4 meters (13 feet) deep, has areas for marine biologists and veterinarians to observe the vaquitas.
Under new regulations, boats will not be allowed to enter the area between Oct. 11 and Dec. 17, and officials have also banned fishing and tourist activities during that period.
On Oct. 12, the government, working with experts and scientists, implemented the Conservation, Protection and Recovery (CPR) project, which is designed to save the last vaquitas in the wild and relocate them temporarily to the floating aquarium in the Upper Gulf of California while officials work to remove fishing nets, the main threat to the marine mammals, from the ecosystem.
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.