The Oregon Coast Aquarium, in cooperation with WhaleTimes Inc., is using 2017 to raise awareness about the vaquita, the world’s most endangered porpoise.
First discovered in the 1950s, the vaquita has become an international symbol for species impacted by “accidental bycatch”. The impact on the vaquita has been devastating. In mid-2016, it was estimated that less than 60 individual animals remained in the wild. By January 2017, that number had been revised downward to 30. Vaquita research is led by Mexico with collaborators from the United States and United Kingdom.
Although the vaquita is not a species found in the waters of the Pacific Northwest, the member organizations of “Team Vaquita” hope to use its story to encourage teachers, students and the public to think more carefully about how we acquire our seafood in order to reduce the global by-catch problem which is estimated to kill tens of millions of non-targeted species every year.
“More and more fisheries in the United States are turning toward sustainable practices which greatly reduce accidental bycatch,” said Marsh Myers, the Aquarium’s Manager of Education Innovation. “But so much of the seafood we eat here still comes from other places where safer, more environmentally conscience methods are not practiced. The vaquita is just one species impacted by accidental bycatch, but there are hundreds more out there.”
Over the course of 2017, Team Vaquita will be distributing free K-12 curriculum, classroom activities, videos, and other resources to help young people learn about the issue of sustainable fishing and enable them to become more conscientious consumers. The team is also cooperating with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) program which has its own vaquita initiative.
“There are so few vaquita left, we really don’t know what this species’ fate will be at this point,” said Ruth Musgrave, Director of WhaleTimes Inc. and the creator of Team Vaquita. “However, the porpoise is a powerful symbol and a reminder that we all have the ability to help our oceans and our wildlife through simple, daily choices, including what kind of seafood we’re eating.”
Additional information on the Year of the Vaquita programs is available through the Aquarium’s Oceanscape Network at oceanscape.aquarium.org and the WhaleTimes, Inc. website at whaletimes.org. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center provided technical expertise on this program. More information about vaquita-related studies is available on their website at https://swfsc.noaa.gov/MMTD-vaquita.
Information and photos provided by Oregon Coast Aquarium