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Helping to Save Vaquitas

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is keeping a close watch on an unprecedented emergency rescue effort underway in Mexico. The history-making mission includes an international team of scientists working to save the most endangered marine mammal in the world, the vaquita, from extinction.

Only 30 of the tiny porpoises remain alive, less than half of what the population

was in 2015. Found only in the Gulf of California in Mexico, their numbers decreased dramatically due to illegal gillnet fishing.

The rescue project, known as VaquitaCPR, involves locating, rescuing and then temporarily relocating the vaquitas to an ocean sanctuary off the coast of San Felipe, Mexico. The explicit goal is to return the vaquitas to their natural habitat once the primary threat to their survival has been eliminated. Experts from Mexico, the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, Canada, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom are all working together in field operations that began October 12 and will last for several weeks.

VaquitaCPR is led by Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). The National Marine Mammal Foundation, Chicago Zoological Society and the Marine Mammal Center are primary partners in this extraordinary conservation effort.

Even with tremendous collaboration, the plan required significant funding. This spring, the North Carolina Aquariums – including Fort Fisher, Pine Knoll Shores, Roanoke Island and Jennette’s Pier– were part of a support effort by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and 100 member zoos and aquariums that raised more than $1.2 million to save the vaquita. In addition, the North Carolina Aquariums helped raise awareness throughout the summer and fall by hosting events like “Save the Vaquita Day,” “Shave to Save the Vaquita” and “Party for a Porpoise.” In total, the North Carolina Aquariums have collectively raised and donated more than $22,000 in private funds for VaquitaCPR.

“The N.C. Aquariums have a responsibility to help save the vaquita and to make others aware of what they can do,” said Director Peggy Sloan, N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. “If this plan works, similar approaches could be used to save other marine mammals and animals threatened by extinction.”

Already scientists involved in the field operations have succeeded in observing a number of vaquita and rescued a vaquita calf. However, the animal was released after it showed signs of stress.

For more about VaquitaCPR and the most up-to-date rescue information:


Photo credit: VaquitaCPR


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