Navy-Trained Dolphins Tapped for Rescue Mission
Fewer than 40 vaquita porpoises are left in the world
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 3, 2017 10:33 AM CDT
In this file photo, a female vaquita porpoise lies dead after getting entangled in a gill net in the Gulf of California.   (AP Photo/Omar Vidal, Proyecto Vaquita, File)
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(Newser) – Your mission, dolphins, should you choose to accept it: Rescue a rare porpoise threatened with extinction. That's the assignment for a group of US Navy-trained dolphins that Mexican officials hope will save the endangered vaquita, the BBC reports. The plan is for the dolphins to find the pint-size porpoises, who are known for their smirks, and herd them to safety at a marine refuge. At only 55 inches long, the vaquitas, or "little cows," are the smallest and most threatened marine mammal, per the AP. There are fewer than 40 of them left in the world, which means in the Gulf of California, their only habitat. The dolphin mission is set to deploy in September.

"We've spent the past year working alongside the US Navy with a group of dolphins they had trained to search for missing scuba divers," Mexico's environment minister tells Formula Radio, per the BBC. Now the dolphins are being retrained to hunt for vaquitas. In another bid to protect the porpoise, Mexico last week permanently banned fishing with gill nets—also called ghost nets, as they're nearly invisible to marine life, notes the AP—in the upper Gulf. The nets are used to catch fish such as the totoaba, valued in Chinese medicine for its bladder, by trapping their heads but not their bodies. Illegal use of the nets has drawn the condemnation of conservation groups and a foundation run by Leonardo DiCaprio, who tweeted the ban was "great news." Mexico is the first country to ban gill nets. (A totoaba bladder can fetch more than $4,000.)

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