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Ani Youatt’s Blog

The Vaquita caught on tape...and not a moment too soon

Ani Youatt

Posted November 20, 2008

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I have been working for three years to save a species that almost no one has ever seen. Only a handful of fishermen and scientists have caught a glimpse of the rare and elusive vaquita porpoise that lives uniquely in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico.  Since its discovery in 1958, there has never been a live photograph of the porpoise. The only images (aside from cartoon drawings) have been of those who have met a tragic end, usually as accidental catch in gillnets set by local fishermen for fish and shrimp. The shrimp is exported and ends up on the plates of unknowing consumers in the US.

VaquitaDue to high levels of illegal fishing and extensive use of gillnets in their habitat the vaquita now has the dubious distinction of being the most endangered cetacean species in the world.  Scientists estimate that no more than 150 remain.  We are in a race against time to prevent the loss of another marine mammal in our lifetimes.  Turning back the clock will require us to remove harmful nets from vaquita waters, provide real alternatives and different gear to fishermen, and establish a sustainable fishery in the region. NRDC is working with local partners to do this, but I won't pretend that it is an easy or straightforward task.

However, thanks to a dedicated team of multi-national scientists, media experts, and NGOs the world can finally meet the living, breathing, swimming, vaquita.  Last month, on a calm, sunny day with glassy waters,documentary filmmaker Chris Johnson  and scientist/photographer Tom Jefferson of NOAA hit the holy grail of vaquita conservation - hundreds of images and video of live vaquitas.

I myself may never see a vaquita in person, but I want to go to bed at night knowing that it is there... swimming in the shallow, murky waters of the Gulf of California...and knowing that we made a space for it in this world.


Photos by Thomas A. Jefferson. Photos taken under permit (Oficio No. DR/488/08) from the Secretaria de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), within a natural protected area subject to special management and decreed as such by the Mexican Government.

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