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February 2017    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 32, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Can Dolphins Save Vaquita Porpoises from Extinction?

from the February, 2017 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

We knew dolphins were clever, but not everyone is aware that some had enrolled in the Navy and are tasked with searching for underwater mines and detecting enemy divers. Now they and their San Diego-based trainers are preparing for a new challenge: locating the few surviving vaquita, the smallest porpoise, in Mexico's upper Sea of Cortez.

The vaquita population has dwindled over the past two decades, with probably fewer than 60 of them surviving today. They've fallen victim as by-catch of rampant illegal fishing for totoaba (a large bass) whose swim bladders, when smuggled from Mexico into China, fetch anywhere from $100 to $1000 + from wealthy Chinese gourmands, who believe it has anti-aging benefits.

Captured vaquitas would be placed inside protective pens off the coast of San Felipe in the hope that they might have a better chance of surviving. The operation, planned for May, is the latest in a series of efforts aimed at protecting vaquitas, small cetaceans that live only in the rich and turbid waters of the Upper Gulf of California.

In fact, I recruited an Undercurrent subscriber and photographer more than 29 years ago to join an undercover Defenders of Wildlife effort in San Felipe, Mexico, to document the illegal totoaba fishermen and the failing vaquita population. Of course, Mexican authorities paid no heed to their efforts, or those of other environmental groups and scientists, and today the vaquita is near extinction. And, the totoaba won't be far behind.

- Ben Davison

For a CNN video on the trade, go to https://goo.gl/NxSLNW

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