Changing Planet

Help Save the World’s Most Endangered Marine Mammal

Did you know scientists estimate there are only 30 vaquita porpoises left in the world making them the most critically endangered marine mammal on Earth? The rare and tiny 100-pound, 5-foot long, toothed whale only lives in the northern pocket of the Gulf of California, Mexico, having the most restricted range of any cetacean. Due to this, vaquitas are vulnerable to human fishing activities like entanglement in illegal fishing nets, especially gillnets.

Conservation and Emergency Rescue Plan:

Shedd Aquarium and conservation leaders among 100 accredited members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) have contributed a collective pledge of $1 million to support the VaquitaCPR emergency plan, in addition to a pledge of $3 million by the Mexican government. The ambitious action plan will place surviving vaquitas in temporary sanctuaries so the species can survive until their environment is once again safe for them to inhabit.

Nearly two dozen species would not be on Earth today were it not for zoos and aquariums accepting the challenge and working with partners to prevent extinction. It is also the reason AZA and its members established SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction, a program to coordinate resources and expertise on saving 10 endangered species, including the vaquita.

The VaquitaCPR (Conservation, Protection and Recovery) emergency action plan calls for the capture and relocation of the remaining vaquitas to a temporary sanctuary while crucial efforts aimed at eliminating illegal fishing and removing gillnets from their environment continue.

Experienced animal care staff will monitor the vaquitas daily and any animal exhibiting signs of excessive stress will be released. Once all gillnets are located and removed, the animals will be released with satellite linked transmitters. Post-release monitoring will include daily, remote satellite tracking of the animals and their behavior in their newly safe environment.

As an aquarium, Shedd is dedicated to educating, connecting people with and creating compassion for the aquatic world and the animals that reside in it, which is why Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is joining VaquitaCPR to do everything we can to avert the extinction of this amazing species.

What You Can Do:

To donate to the emergency VaquitaCPR project, visit www.VaquitaCPR.org. Or learn more, share this information with your network and use your voice to raise awareness about the world’s most endangered marine mammal.

Background On Vaquitas:

Vaquitas are a species of cetacean and a type of porpoise. Vaquitas were scientifically discovered as a new species in 1958 and are one of the smallest cetaceans reaching a maximum length of five feet. Identified by their dark gray to light gray to white countershading, vaquitas feature a distinct dark circle around each eye, dark gray lipstick-like markings and a dark stripe extending from the chin to the flippers. This type of countershading, like with many other cetaceans, helps camouflage to protect from predators, so when spotted from above the darker dorsal blends in with the ocean depths while the lighter ventral blend in with the brighter sea surface.

Inhabiting mostly shallow, murky coastal waters, vaquitas mainly eat bottom or near-bottom dwelling fish and squids. These shallow waters have high degree of coastal upwelling, which supports an abundance of life including many vaquita prey species.

The John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago sparks compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world. Home to 32,000 aquatic animals representing 1,500 species of fishes, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the globe, Shedd is a recognized leader in animal care, conservation education and research. An accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and the first U.S. aquarium to be awarded the Humane Conservation™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals by American Humane, the organization is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, and is supported by the people of Chicago, the State of Illinois and the Chicago Park District. www.sheddaquarium.org

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