How acoustic monitoring gave us a last chance to save the vaquita

first_imgMonitoring the vaquita’s vocalizations has allowed scientists to closely and accurately monitor the species’ unfortunate decline.Illegal fishing for totoaba is the biggest threat to the vaquita. They are killed as bycatch, drowning in nets meant for the fish.Conservationists say the next step is to capture vaquitas for captivity, a highly controversial plan with major risks. Thanks to a five-year acoustic monitoring program, conservationists have detected the rapid decline of the vaquita before it is too late – giving them one last shot to save the species. By monitoring the vaquita’s clicking vocalizations, a new paper in Conservation Biology announced that the population of the vaquita has dropped to fewer than 30 animals. Until recently the exact population size was unknown, hindering conservation efforts and further risking the species’ survival.The size of a large dog, the vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is the world’s most endangered porpoise. Unlike most cetaceans, its range is restricted to a small northern portion of the Gulf of California. Only discovered in 1958, the vaquita was already considered Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List by 1986. Today it is Critically Endangered.Beginning in 2011, the Acoustic Monitoring Program is an international collaborative effort between scientists from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change. Since the project commenced, scientists estimate the total vaquita population has declined a staggering 90 percent, taking the global population down from an already troublingly low 200 individuals to less than 30.While researchers knew the vaquita was critically endangered, they were not expecting to document anything like this.“The [Acoustic Monitoring Program] was designed to detect the anticipated recovery of vaquitas. Instead we documented the consequence of the rise of the illegal [totoaba] fishery,” Dr. Barbara Taylor, lead author of the study, said.An acoustic monitoring program has revealed that there are fewer than 30 vaquitas left in the wild. Photo by Paula Olson, NOAA.The totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) is a fish roughly the size of a vaquita that is prized for its swim bladder in China. The illegal trade is so lucrative that a single swim bladder can fetch up to $5,000 on the black market. Unfortunately, the gillnets used to capture these fish are the perfect size to ensnare and kill vaquitas, and the secretive nature of the enterprise has made it impossible to measure the extent to which vaquitas are caught as bycatch.While the Mexican government declared a fishing ban inside the Gulf of California’s Vaquita Refuge in 2008, the illegal toataba fishery has only continued to expand.Until the results of the monitoring program were released, scientists were unsure about the impact of this secretive illegal fishery within the refuge.“[I had thought that] our ability to monitor vaquitas was so poor that they were likely to go extinct before we could prove they were declining,” said Taylor. “Fortunately, acoustic methods changed all that.”Unlike visual surveys or estimating population decline from bycatch, passive acoustic monitoring does not require scientists to see the notoriously shy vaquita to know they are there. Instead, the researchers, led by Dr. Jaramillo-Legoretta, deployed 48 acoustic detectors in the Vaquita Refuge over a five-year period. These detectors pick up the vaquitas’ echolocation clicks, allowing researchers to develop a population estimate based on the total number of clicks per 24-hour period. In order to ensure that seasonal or tidal variations did not compromise the data, researchers deployed detectors 24 hours a day during the same three-month period each year.Preliminary results released in 2014 led to a two-year gillnet ban throughout the vaquita’s entire range. Updated results released in 2016 led to the launch of an emergency action plan called VaquitaCPR just last month. According the plan, researchers will locate and capture a number of vaquitas using Navy trained dolphins under the leadership of Mexico’s Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT).This solution of holding vaquitas in temporary captivity for safekeeping is not without controversy. Vaquitas have never been successfully kept in captivity before, let alone successfully bred. And cetaceans are notoriously difficult to keep alive in captivity. Some scientists argue that this plan could wind up killing the very vaquitas it sets out to protect. However, conservationists are running out of options.“Given the rapid and continuing decline, saving at least some vaquitas is a wise conservation course recommended by the recovery team,” said Taylor. She stressed that it is a temporary fix. Long-term actions that protect vaquitas in their natural environment, including a permanent gillnet ban and development of alternative fishing gear, will still take top priority.The vaquita Acoustic Monitoring Program proves that continuously monitoring endangered species is critically important. Without such measures, scientists might not notice unexpected or unseen threats until it is too late to save the species. In the case of the vaquita, there is still a very real risk of extinction – but without acoustic monitoring, that risk could have been an inevitability.Citation:Jaramillo‐Legorreta, A., Cardenas‐Hinojosa, G., Nieto‐Garcia, E., Rojas‐Bracho, L., Ver Hoef, J., Moore, J., Tregenze, N., Barlow, J., Gerrodette, T., Thomas, L., & Taylor, B. (2016). Passive acoustic monitoring of the decline of Mexico’s critically endangered vaquita. Conservation Biology. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12789 Animals, Biodiversity, Cetaceans, Conservation, Endangered Species, Extinction, Fisheries, Illegal Trade, Interns, Oceans, Technology, Vaquita, Wildlife, Wildtech Popular in the CommunitySponsoredSponsoredOrangutan found tortured and decapitated prompts Indonesia probeEMGIES17 Jan, 2018We will never know the full extent of what this poor Orangutan went through before he died, the same must be done to this evil perpetrator(s) they don’t deserve the air that they breathe this has truly upset me and I wonder for the future for these wonderful creatures. So called ‘Mankind’ has a lot to answer for we are the only ones ruining this world I prefer animals to humans any day of the week.What makes community ecotourism succeed? 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In some ways, this is nature trying to fight back. This ban is great, but the rest of the world just cannot allow it to be temporary, because history has demonstrated that once this coronavirus passes, they will in all likelihood, simply revert to been the planets worst Ecco Terrorists. Let’s simply not allow this to happen! How and why they have been able to degrade this planets iconic species, rape the planets rivers, oceans and forests, with apparent impunity, is just mind boggling! Please no more.Probing rural poachers in Africa: Why do they poach?Carrot3dOne day I feel like animals will be more scarce, and I agree with one of my friends, they said that poaching will take over the world, but I also hope notUpset about Amazon fires last year? 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It is mentioned that planting trees in village common lands will have negative affects socially and ecologically. There is no need to even have to agree or disagree with it, because, you also mentioned the fact that Cauvery Calling aims to plant trees only in the private lands of the farmers. So, plantation in the common lands doesn’t come into the picture.2.I don’t see that the ecologists are totally against this project, but just they they have some concerns, mainly in terms of what species of trees will be planted. And because there was no direct communication between the ecologists and Isha Foundation, it was not possible for them to address the concerns. As you seem to have spoken with an Isha spokesperson, if you could connect the concerned parties, it would be great, because I see that the ecologists are genuinely interested in making sure things are done the right way.May we all come together and make things happen.Rare Amazon bush dogs caught on camera in BoliviaCarrot1 Feba very good iniciative to be fallowed by the ranchers all overSponsoredcenter_img Article published by Maria Salazarlast_img read more