Expedition Sights Endangered Vaquita Porpoise and Rampant Fishing Inside Biosphere Reserve
Sea Shepherd ship M/V Farley Mowat and Museo de la Ballena research vessel Narval encounter dozens of skiffs fishing with prohibited gillnets near a live vaquita inside protected refuge.
San Felipe, BC, Mexico, October 21st, 2019 – Leading scientists supported by conservation patrol vessels carrying out the second leg of a scientific expedition to study the critically endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus), have encountered dozens of fishing skiffs, including one in close proximity to a live vaquita within the 150 square kilometer “zero tolerance” area of the federally protected Vaquita Refuge in Mexico’s Biosphere Reserve of the Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River.
Fishing inside the refuge is banned to protect the critically endangered marine mammal.
Subsidies given to the fishermen by the Mexican Government to compensate for this measure ceased to be disbursed 11 months ago. Ramon Franco, President of the Cooperativas Ribereñas Rubio Castro from San Felipe, Baja California stated, “We want the United Nations to know that the fishing sector in our community went out fishing without respecting agreements or protected areas as a result of the lack of attention and dialogue the federal Government has given to this issue, it is responsible for what could happen in this community.”
These types of expeditions are key to the photo ID effort, they provide the best option to guide protection measures.
Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, head of marine mammal research at Mexico’s National Commission on Protected Areas (CONANP) and co-chief scientist of the current expedition, highlighted the importance of the sighting: “Under the current circumstances, the most important piece of information right now is that there are still vaquitas surviving… hopefully we can track the lives of these few fit individuals and protect them exactly where they are. These type of expeditions are key to the photo ID effort, they provide the best option to guide protection measures.”
The expedition to spot vaquitas is coordinated by CONANP with the collaboration of Museo de la Ballena y Ciencias del Mar and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as well as the participation of researchers from the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) and the USA, and the ongoing support of the Mexican Navy (SEMAR). The first leg of the expedition generated three sightings of vaquita pairs, on August 19th, 20th and on September 3rd, in the waters off San Felipe, Baja California, the second leg of the survey runs between the 14th and 28th of October. The elusive and critically endangered species is being driven ever closer toward extinction by becoming ensnared in gillnets, the primary cause of its decline.
Photographs courtesy: CONANP/Museo de la Ballena/SEA SHEPHERD
Mexico’s vaquita porpoise: According to last official data, fewer than 19 vaquitas remain alive. The main threat to the tiny cetacean, endemic to the Upper Gulf of California, is illegal totoaba gillnet fishing.
UNESCO recognized Vaquita Refuge: In this limited area, the use of gillnets is prohibited, due to overlap with the reduced habitat of the threatened vaquita.