Did you know that you can help a little porpoise on the precipice of extinction? There are now emergency efforts underway to save a very small species of porpoise called the vaquita, found only in one small area of the Sea of Cortez in the Upper Gulf of Mexico. Vaquita numbers have decreased dramatically, and only about 60 animals are still alive in the wild as a result of commercial fishing in the area where they have been caught and drowned in gillnets. To help increase awareness of their plight and to encourage people to help save these small porpoises, the El Paso Zoo has joined the AZA SAFE and the Vaquita Action Plan.
AZA SAFE stands for “Saving Animals From Extinction” and focuses the collective expertise within our accredited zoos and aquariums and leverages their massive audiences to save species. At the same time, SAFE will build capacity to increase direct conservation spending, as well as our members’ impact on saving species through work in the field, in our zoos and aquariums, and through public engagement. We have done it before. Some species exist only because of the efforts of aquariums and zoos and our partners. They include two species currently living at the El Paso Zoo, the Mexican wolf and the Przewalski's horse.
The vaquita lives only in the wild which makes saving it from extinction a much greater challenge. Compared to efforts to save other species on the brink of extinction. Before the Mexican wolf went extinct in the wild during the late 1970s, the last known wild wolves were captured in Mexico and moved to breeding facilities. It seems unlikely that such an approach would work for the vaquita, since they have never survived for very long in the care of humans.
To help save the species from falling victim to gillnets used within the fishing industry for the capture of other species, the Presidents of Mexico and the United States recently committed to intensify bilateral cooperation to protect the critically endangered vaquita marina porpoise, including through the following actions:
• Mexico will make permanent a ban on the use of gillnets in all fisheries throughout the range of the vaquita in the upper Gulf of California;
• Both countries will increase cooperation and enforcement efforts to immediately halt the illegal fishing for and illegal trade in totoaba swim bladders;
• Both countries will redouble efforts, in collaboration with international experts, to develop alternative fishing gear to gillnets that does not result in the entanglement of vaquita and establish “vaquita-safe” fisheries; and
• Both countries will establish and implement a long-term program to remove and permanently dispose of illegal and derelict fishing gear from vaquita habitat in the upper Gulf of California.
Earlier this year the Zoo's education team launched a new effort to help save the vaquita. We now tell the story of the vaquita at weekend and Monday Sea Lion training programs encouraging people to get involved in conservation efforts. To help save the vaquita zoo guests are encouraged to:
- Visit the Zoo and catch a sea lion training presentation and learn more!
- Become a member of the El Paso Zoological Society.
- Be a consumer conservationist and use the Seafood Watch Guide App to help you choose sustainable seafood.
- Don’t eat Fish Maw soup! This soup is made with the swim bladder of the endangered totoaba, which vaquita are often collateral damage of illegal fishing.
- Talk with your family and friends about the vaquita.
- Support organizations which focus on marine conservation and research, like zoos!