After nearly a month of operation, the international rescue operation known as VaquitaCPR came to a close on Friday, and most personnel packed up and headed home on Saturday. VaquitaCPR was a desperate bid to stop the rapid decline in numbers of the small population of about 20 animals from slipping to zero in the next year or so. As has been widely reported in the news recently, things did not go as hoped. Two animals were captured; the first was a calf and had to be released after showing signs of major stress. The second was an adult female, but she also showed signs of stress and despite a decision to release her, she stopped breathing. Valiant efforts to save her by the veterinary staff were unsuccessful and she died late on the night of 4 November. More details on the operations and can be found on the various posts by VaquitaCPR.
This turn of events was very unfortunate, and it indeed calls into question whether vaquitas are robust enough to survive the stress of capture, transport, and confinement. Many people will be evaluating and pondering this question over the next weeks and months, and an informed decision on whether to proceed with the rescue operation will be made in due course.
I must say it is sad and a bit disturbing to me to see the posts and comments made by some people, who seem more interested in bragging or grabbing headlines, than in working to develop a workable solution to keep this species from dying out before our eyes. Such comments are hurtful and counterproductive. I had the opportunity to spend nearly a week with the VaquitaCPR crew, after operations switched from captures to photo-identification (an area in which I have some experience). I can tell you that the entire staff of the VaquitaCPR operation is wholly dedicated to helping this species survive, and have come together from diverse backgrounds to work toward this common goal. A valid point was made that everything in this operation went extremely well, except for those elements that are outside of human control.
So, I urge everyone to be patient and calm, and to wait for the results of the necropsy of the female that died, as well as the coming program assessment, before making any conclusions about whether the capture operations should continue. The most important things are that a rational decision is made, based on a careful assessment of the facts, and that whatever plans are developed from here on (capture or no capture), the best interests of the vaquita population are put first and foremost. The events of the past weeks have resulted in a setback, but this is not over. Please don’t give up hope for the survival of Mexico’s lovely little desert porpoise…
Photos taken under permit (Oficio No. DR/488/08 from the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturale Protegidas (CONANP/Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), within a natural protected area subject to special management and decreed as such by the Mexican Government. This work was made possible thanks to the collaboration and support of the Coordinador de Investigación y Conservación de Mamíferos Marinos at the Instituto Nacional de Ecología (INE).