Expedición Internacional Vaquita Marina 2015: Research Summary

Upcoming event: Net Loss: New Abundance Estimate Reveals that Mexico’s Vaquita Faces Imminent Extinction Due to Illegal Fishing. A lecture by Barbara Taylor (SWFSC) for the Jeffrey B. Graham Perspectives on Ocean Science Lecture Series at the Birch Aquarium, UC San Diego. Premiere Date: 7/5/2016

SEMARNAT (INECC) website The previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer Update! (3 Dec 2015): Latest field report posted.

(esta página en españolThe previous link is a link to non-Federal government web site. Click to review NOAA Fisheries disclaimer)

Vaquita Woodcut Barb Taylor
Artwork by Barbara Taylor

Vaquitas are a critically endangered porpoise found only in a small part of the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico. Vaquita are the smallest porpoise and have the smallest distribution of any marine mammal. Recent acoustic data indicating a strong decline in vaquita numbers prompted the government of Mexico to take unprecedented steps to save their porpoise from extinction resulting from accidental deaths when animals drown in fishing nets that are set for fish and shrimp.  The 2-year ban on gillnets within the distribution of vaquitas was announced by President Peña Nieto in April of 2015.  This survey will obtain the most precise abundance estimate of vaquitas possible at the beginning of the ban period.

  Ocean Starr 300px
  R/V Ocean Starr owned by Stabbert Maritime (Photo SEMARNAT)

The Vaquita Expedition 2015 will take place from September 26 to December 3. Chief Scientists for the survey are Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho (from Mexico’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, SEMARNAT) and Barbara Taylor (from Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries); the survey is being supported by SEMARNAT. Both visual and acoustic methods are required to obtain a precise abundance estimate. The entire distribution of vaquitas between 20 and 50 meters deep will be visually surveyed from a research ship (the R/V Ocean Starr) using 6 huge binoculars called ‘big eyes’. These 25-power  binoculars are needed to see the shy vaquita before they react to the ship.  Scientists came from Mexico, the US, United Kingdom and Germany to provide porpoise sighting expertise.

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  Armando Jaramillo and Gustavo Cárdenas prepare to launch CPOD. (Photo  Barbara Taylor)

Mexico is a world leader in acoustic monitoring of porpoises using a passive acoustic device called a CPOD.  Armando Jaramillo-Legorreta and his team will deploy 134 CPODs in a grid in the shallow water vaquita distribution where the ship cannot go.  The CPODs detect the very high frequency clicks that vaquitas use to find fish in the productive, muddy waters.  Developing the acoustic monitoring system was the primary objective of the last vaquita survey in 2008.  The system was designed to detect the hoped for 4%/year recovery of vaquita.  Instead, the system detected a dramatic 67% decline between 2011 and 2014.

The project is a research collaboration between SEMARNAT and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA Fisheries. Additional support is provided from Instituto Nacional de Ecología y Cambio Climático (INECC), Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protecion (CONAMP), Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO), and The Marine Mammal Center.

Mexico Chief Scientist:  Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, PhD

US Chief Scientist: Barbara L. Taylor, PhD