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Experts Remain Optimistic Over Effort To Save Vaquita Porpoise

Vaquita porpoises swim in the Gulf of California in this undated photo.

Credit: NOAA

Above: Vaquita porpoises swim in the Gulf of California in this undated photo.

Experts Remain Optimistic Over Effort To Save Vaquita Porpoise

GUEST:

Barbara Taylor, marine biologist, Southwest Fisheries Science Center

Transcript

Despite a recent report that there may be only 2 or 3 vaquitas left in the northern Gulf of California, a San Diego marine mammal expert said the effort is moving "full speed ahead" with a $4 million dollar plan to save the critically endangered porpoise from extinction.

Barbara Taylor, a marine biologist with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, said while there is no way to know for sure how many vaquitas are alive today, she believes there may be closer to 15 vaquitas.

"From the summer of 2015 to 2016 we went from 60 to 30. We expect we'll probably lose another half of the population. We'll probably be down to 10-15 animals. We hope we're luckier than that. But the acoustic monitoring next summer will be what tells us the story," she said.

The acoustic monitoring is part of a bi-national effort to find and capture the vaquita for captivity. The plan includes U.S. Navy dolphins that have been trained to track the vaquita.

"It's a very unusual tool and we don't know whether it's going to work, it would be a thrill if one marine mammal can find another," she said. "The Navy has been preparing them to go out there and hopefully what they'll help us do is keep track of the vaquita because they often swim in singles or pairs and they are very hard to see."

Taylor said she is also working to sequence the species' full genome, which may eventually help scientists breed the vaquita in captivity.

The vaquita is on the brink of extinction because of illegal gill nets used by poachers to catch endangered totoaba fish.

Taylor discussed the status of the bi-national plan to save the vaquita, Tuesday on Midday Edition.

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