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Entanglement in gillnets is the sole threat to the survival of the vaquita

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Aug. 1, 2022 – A new study published in the scientific journal Endangered Species reports that more vaquitas remain alive than population projections initially indicated. This is incredibly good news for the crews, volunteers, and supporters of Operation Milagro, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society campaign that has worked to protect the vaquita since 2015.

The investigation, carried out by Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho and colleagues, finds that the remaining animals are in good health, breeding, and surviving and may have learned to avoid the gillnets responsible for the decline of the species.

The study is based on research carried out between 2019-2021 in the Vaquita Refuge – a small region in Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California where the remaining vaquita population is localized. According to the authors, more vaquitas were sighted than predicted by previous population projection estimates. Scientists observed 7-15 vaquitas in 2019 and 5-13 in 2021. In both seasons, calves were sighted among the adults, proving that the population is breeding. Scientists speculate that the surviving animals may have learned to avoid entanglement in gillnets, which are responsible for the species’ decline.

Dave Hance, the Campaign Director for Operation Milagro, referred to this encouraging news by saying “This report gives hope for the vaquita, but also demonstrates that even greater efforts are needed to protect this species. Sea Shepherd is committed to working even harder with the Mexican Navy and we will be announcing the next steps in our enhanced partnership as we prepare to continue our years-long effort to ensure the long-term survival of this critically endangered species.”

The vaquita is a small species of porpoise endemic to the Upper Gulf of California. Entanglement in fishing gear, primarily gillnets, is responsible for the decline of the species. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been working with Mexican authorities since 2015 to remove illegal fishing gear from the vaquita’s habitat, giving the species a fighting chance at survival. To date, these efforts have resulted in the removal of over 1000 pieces of fishing gear from the Vaquita Refuge. This UNESCO-recognized region is home to the remaining vaquita population.

Read the full report here:

https://www.int-res.com/abstracts/esr/v48/p225-234/

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