Beardsley Zoo joins effort to save world's most endangered marine mammal

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo has pledged a donation of $2,000 to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) effort to save a small species of porpoise whose numbers have been decimated by gillnetting. The combined contribution of zoos across the nation has raised more than $600,000 to save this imperiled animal. The vaquita porpoise, whose name means “Little Cow,” is the most endangered of the world’s 128 marine mammal species. Gillnetting uses walls of netting to target a particular fish, in this case the totoaba, but vaquitas often get tangled in the nets and drown.

Despite the heroic efforts of the Mexican government to protect vaquitas in the northernmost part of the Gulf of California, emergency action is needed to temporarily remove some of the remaining animals and create a safe haven for them. In 1997, there were an estimated 567 vaquitas remaining, according to an AZA study. A more recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found fewer than 60 vaquitas left. Today, it is believed that fewer than 30 vaquitas remain.

Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo appropriates 25 cents from each paid admission to the Zoo to earmark for endangered species protection. The Zoo’s support for the vaquitas will help to establish a safe haven in the northern Gulf of California. The porpoises will be housed and cared for by veterinarians and animal specialists from the U.S. and Mexico.

“Part of our mission as an AZA-accredited zoo is to focus on species protection,” said Zoo Director Gregg Dancho. “By taking a leadership role in species conservation, we have an opportunity to save a unique mammal for future generations through zoo admissions. Our donation represents a portion of 8,000 paid admissions, a measure of the importance of this emergency action.”

The vaquita is part of the cetacean family, which includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises. A mature vaquita is about five feet long and weighs 120 pounds. The first cetacean species driven to extinction due to human activity was the Yangtze River dolphin in 2006.

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