Mexico Launches Intensive Survey for Endangered Vaquita

SEMARNAT Press Release ( Click here) The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer

Vaquita Closeup T Jefferson
The vaquita is the world’s smallest porpoise. With less than 100 individuals remaining, the species is in imminent danger of extinction.

Gulf of California
The vaquita is found only in the uppermost reaches of the Gulf of California, Mexico, as indicated by the red box.

On Sept. 26 the Mexican Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources will launch the most comprehensive survey ever for vaquita, the most endangered marine mammal in the world that is native only to a small region in the northern Gulf of California.

Vaquita Study Area 2015
Research design for the 2015 vaquita abundance study. The area to be sampled visually is outlined in blue, and visual transects are shown as black north-south lines. The area to be sampled acoustically is outlined in green, and acoustic sensor (C-POD) locations are shown as black points. The area to be sampled with both acoustic and visual methods (the calibration area) is outlined in red. Vaquita sightings during the 1997 and 2008 surveys are shown as small red points. The gillnet exclusion area is shown as a dashed gray line, the Vaquita Refuge Area as a thin gray line, and Consag Rocks as a black triangle. Depth contours of 20m and 50m are shown.

The survey will cover an area of roughly 100 miles by 50 miles, encompassing the distribution of the species. NOAA Fisheries will provide field and analytical expertise and logistical support to the international team of scientists and observers from Mexico, the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The survey includes two main components. One team will conduct a ship-based visual survey for vaquita using high-powered binoculars that can spot vaquita up to five kilometers away. Another team will deploy an expanded grid of innovative acoustic buoys in shallow water to listen for the sounds of vaquita “echolocating” to find food. Together the two data streams will be combined to determine the location and number of vaquita throughout the species range.

“The results will provide a baseline with which to assess the conservation strategies implemented by the Government of Mexico,” said Rafael Pacchiano, Mexico’s Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources.

The two-month survey will run until early December aboard the 175-foot research vessel Ocean Starr.

The last ship-based survey for vaquita took place in 2008 and helped determine a population estimate at the time of about 250 animals, down from around 600 in 1997. The vaquita is the smallest in size and the most endangered of all 128 species of marine mammals. It is naturally shy and difficult to detect at sea.

Scientists have determined that the population has now dwindled below 100 as vaquita have been killed in commercial gillnets set for fish, shrimp and in an illegal fishery for totoaba, a large fish with swim bladders that are a prized commodity in China. The International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, a group of experts appointed by the Mexican government, re-iterated in its 2015 report that gillnets must be permanently banned to save the species from extinction.

In April, the Mexican government announced new protections for vaquita, including a two-year ban on gillnets in vaquita habitat and increased enforcement to combat illegal fishing for totoaba. The strategy includes compensation for fishing communities and support for alternative fishing gear.

The survey will provide the best possible estimate of the remaining vaquita population to support Mexican conservation initiatives.

“We’re pleased to be able to support and assist with this ambitious survey for remaining vaquita,” said Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “This is truly a critical time for the species, when good science and accurate data can make an important difference.”

Story update: First sighting of vaquita reported! Click here to read about it.

Follow the expedition on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (NOAAFisheries and SEMARNAT):
#Vaquita, #VaquitaMarina, #VaquitaExpedition2015, #ExpedicionVaquita2015, #SEMARNAT, #NOAAFisheries

View expedition photos on Flickr ( click here)

Read more:
Constata Titular de Semarnat presencia de vaquita marina en Alto Golfo de California – SEMARNAT The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer


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