Campaign to save porpoises started

August 20, 2008 11:02:18 AM PDT
Mexico is investing 163 million pesos (US$16 million) to save a highly endangered type of porpoise from fishing nets in the upper Gulf of California. Scientists say they believe the population of the vaquita marina -- Spanish for "little sea cow" -- has dwindled to 150 or less from more than 500 a decade ago.

"It's a critical time for the vaquita, and the Mexican government has stepped up to the plate," said Peggy Turk Boyer, executive director of the Intercultural Center for the Study of Desert and Oceans, a U.S.-Mexican institution that will help survey the population of the porpoises this fall.

The money will be dedicated to stepping up enforcement of fishing regulations in the warm, still waters of the far northern Gulf, a designated nature preserve.

The government also will use the funds to buy nets from local fishermen, who will be taught other fishing methods or be trained in new trades. The big nets drown dozens of vaquitas each year.

Also known as the Gulf of California porpoise, the elusive vaquita was only discovered in 1958. The animal resembles a dolphin, but rarely jumps from the water and avoids boats, making an accurate population count difficult.

The vaquita also is threatened by the dwindling flow of the Colorado River into the gulf. Depleted by western U.S. cities for drinking water, the river carries high levels of agricultural runoff that can significantly alter the gulf's chemistry.

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