Vaquitas Surface as Mexican Minister of the Environment Launches Survey for the Endangered Porpoise

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SEMARNAT Delegation
  Science briefing, Vaquita Expedition 2015, pictured (left to right): Deputy Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), Marta Grivas; Governor of Baja California, Francisco Arturo Vega de Lamadrid; Commander of the 4th Naval Region, Guaymas, José Rafael Ojeda Durán; Federal Environmental Protection Agency (PROFEPA) delegate to Baja California, Issac Jonathan García Pereda; Director of the National Commission of Aquaculture and Fisheries, Mario Gilberto Aguilar Sánchez; Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, Rafael Pacchiano Alamán; SEMARNAT delegate to Baja California, Alfonso Orel Blancaforte Camarena, Photo credit: Todd Pusser.

Mexico’s Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, formally launched the project to estimate numbers of the world’s rarest marine mammal on Oct. 1, which turned into a banner day when three vaquitas surfaced in view of several leading officials.

“It was almost as if they wanted to be seen by those with the power to save them,” said Barbara Taylor of NOAA Fisheries. Taylor and Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho of SEMARNAT are chief scientists of the most intensive survey ever conducted for highly endangered vaquita, which range only in the northernmost waters of the Gulf of California, Mexico.

A Mexican Navy vessel filled with dignitaries met the vaquita survey vessel R/V Ocean Starr as it steamed towards where observers had sighted the first three vaquitas of the survey the day before. The chief scientists briefed the Mexican government dignitaries on the state of the vaquita population and the survey design. The meeting aboard the Ocean Starr provided an important opportunity for scientists to share information with the many Mexican agencies and elected officials working together to save Mexico’s porpoise.

   Rafael Pacchiano Alamán on 25x
  Rafael Pacchiano Alamán, Mexico’s Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources on “big eye” binoculars on the R/V Ocean Starr, Vaquita Expedition 2015. Photo credit: Todd Pusser.

Besides the Minister, visitors to the research vessel included many representatives of the Mexican Navy; other organizations involved in enforcement; and members of federal and state environmental and fisheries agencies. The visitors also included Governor Francisco Arturo Vega de Lamadrid of the State of Baja California.

Just as the scientists were finishing the briefing, the group received the news that vaquitas had been sighted in front of the ship. Everyone moved quickly to the flying bridge where observers were keeping the vaquitas in sight. There the dignitaries observed the extremely rare animals through high-powered binoculars. Pacchiano Alamán described this moment as "unique and special" and reiterated the commitment of the Mexican Government to work hard to rescue the world's smallest porpoise.

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