Vaquita in Mexico Project updates

- In August, 2012 -

Mission in Mexico

The President of the The Explorers Foundation, Bernard Limal, went to the west coast of Mexico last August in order to meet the scientists in charge of the Vaquita conservation project and to assess its operation. He was warmly welcomed by the team of the research centre in Ensenada, who presented the updates of the project and brought him to a field survey on boat to check the buoys in the Vaquita refuge area, within the Cortez Sea. These buoys are used for Vaquita acoustic monitoring. Indeed, the specie is really hard to observe because of its rareness, its small size, its shy behaviour and the opacity of the water coming from the Colorado Delta. An additional day was dedicated to the meeting with local fishermen and the protected areas representatives in order to discuss about common measures for Vaquita management.

This encounter with local stakeholders and Mexican authorities encouraged a positive dynamic to protect the most endangered cetacean in the world.

Picture of the participants of the meeting with fishermen (© B. Limal, The Explorers Foundation)

- In March, 2012 –

Interesting results for the Vaquita program in Mexico

At the end of last year, after 83 days of data recording, detectors of 19 sampling sites have been checked to analyze the data. In the end, 925 acoustic events were recorded!

This first part of the study already shows interesting results:

-           geographical distribution patterns of the Vaquita population are emerging. The population would be more present in the southwestern region and out of the refuge area.

-           Vaquitas seem to reduce their acoustic activity when they get close to dolphins. This behavior could bring a bias in estimations. A precise analysis about the links between the acoustic behaviors of both species will be conducted to make estimations of the number of Vaquitas more accurate.

The results of this study will improve scientific knowledge about the Vaquita distribution and will allow local actors to adapt conservation activities.

- In November, 2011 –

Very long but promising analyses!

While the acoustic sensors moored to the buoys marking out the refuge area of the vaquitas  continue to record the acoustic activity of the animals, the research team is carrying out its analysis of all of the data that was collected during the summer. Some of the data files from detectors placed in quiet areas are quickly analyzed, however most of the detectors have recorded a considerable number of sound signals. Two of these files contained more than 150 vaquita signals and took more than five days to analyze! The team is engaged in calibrating the software for analyzing the auditive data as well as identifying the signals originating from the vaquitas. The next step will be to calculate the detection rate of the species based on the different environmental parameters measured such as tides.

- In October, 2011 –

End of the season for data collection from the acoustic detectors in the Sea of Cortez

All of the acoustic equipment and mooring systems were taken up from the sea before the start of the shrimp fishing season. Unfortunately, some devices were not found at the expected locations where they had initially been placed and, despite several attempts, could not be traced. The research team has set up a reward system for fishermen who find the missing detectors. So far, two of the missing detectors have been returned by fishermen.

The team therefore has high hopes of finding the rest of the missing detectors with the help of the local fishermen. The scientific research team is now getting down to work on the analysis of the recorded data that has been collected over the last three months by the acoustic detectors.

- In September, 2011 -

The “Opel  Earth” project visits the vaquita.

15 young students and scientists from various backgrounds participated in the “Opel Earth” project, a month-long expedition in Tanzania, the Arctic and Panama.

The participants spent a week in Mexico with the Cousteau team. The scientists from the team working on the project talked to the participants about the dangers threatening the species as well as  the methods that are presently being used to study and protect them. An outing at sea in the vaquita refuge area allowed the researchers to show the participants the acoustic detector installations on the buoys that delineate the refuge. Through the media interest in their project, the “Opel Earth” participants will thus be able to inform the wider public of the threats that are presently faced by the vaquita and by a large number of other small cetacean species.

- In August, 2011 -

The vaquita acoustic detector network in place soon!

The full complement of underwater mooring systems were set up in May and June. The vaquita refuge area is thus entirely covered by the mooring systems while awaiting the setting up of the 50 acoustic detectors. It is expected that the whole of the acoustic network will be in place by September.

- In July, 2011 –

The deployment of the acoustic detector network is complete!

Following the end of the pilot study and the very positive results that were attained despite the unfavorable weather conditions, the implementation of the acoustic detector network is finally taking place. All of the mooring systems are being assembled and the acoustic C-POD detectors are being prepared for their establishment. The research team hopes to  recover the detectors at the beginning of September in order to be able to download the stored data and start analyzing the results. The detectors will be checked regularly from the time of their implementation at sea and retrieval. During the months of June and July are the International Whaling Commission meeting will examine in detail the critical case of the vaquita.

108 “acoustic encounters”!

Since the tests began, the equivalent of 540 days of data have been recorded. Of all of the acoustic data collected, 108 acoustic signals corresponded to the vaquita. In a workshop that brought together various experts in 2009, it was indicated that the equivalent of 5000 days of recorded data would be needed to achieve a sufficient degree of reliability. The Equipe Cousteau´s acoustic detector network, encompassing more than 50 detectors should attain this objective within less than 3 months of operation. The results of the pilot study are very promising and clearly confirm these predictions, the acoustic detector network will provide sufficiently accurate data on the number of vaquita for population trends to be detected.


-In June, 2011-

The Mexican government is pushing the development of new fishing nets to protect the vaquita from the risk of accidental bycatch

Whilst the analysis of data from the acoustic detector network progresses, research continues within the governmental program to develop new fishing gear that will not jeopardize the vaquita. During the last fishing season a new net prototype was used by 127 vessels, 39 of which participated in the test program organized by the Mexican National Fisheries Institute (INAPESCA).

However, as in the previous year, there were no candidates for the “Buy Out” program aimed at compensating fishermen who give up their fishing activity and take up new economic activities. The Mexican government intends to respond to the need to retrain fishermen in order to facilitate their job reconversion.

-In May, 2011-

Development of the operational acoustic detector network in the Sea of Cortez

In previous letters, the The Explorers Foundation had presented the establishment of the acoustic sensors used in the pilot study in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. These detectors will soon be recovered and the data registered since February 2010 will be downloaded and added to the previous readings and the whole will then be analyzed. The results of these analyses will be presented to the steering committee of the Vaquita refuge area, which is responsible for carrying the conservation actions in respect of the species. The committee will then make its recommendations regarding the development and adaptation of the operational acoustic detector network, which will consist of sixty acoustic detectors crisscrossing the vaquita distribution area.

-In March, 2011-

400 days of data already recorded of the vaquitas in the Sea of Cortez!

The acoustic sensors used in the initial tests have been active since May 2010. Including the readings from the detectors put in place in November 2010, the Mexican research team already has 400 days worth of data! This first result, judged exceptional, has permitted the identification of 80 different acoustic signals close to the Rocas Consag. These results confirm previous studies on the distribution of the vaquita in the region.

- In December, 2010-

The vaquita pilot study in Mexico is under way!

The Vaquita Program pilot study began initially in that part of the Cortez Sea in Mexico designated as a «protected area» for the species. This «refuge zone» has been divided into 6 sectors and the first phase of the pilot study was conducted at 10 sites; 6 sites that correspond to the center of each sector of the refuge zone plus the sites corresponding to the buoys G, D as well as sites numbers 44 and 7 (seeMap). To ensure that this study is representative of the entire zone, the Equipe Cousteau researchers will select randomly 13 more sites to make up a total of 23 sites for the pilot study.

New conservation measures in favor of the vaquita in Mexico.

The Mexican government and several local NGOs (Alto Golfo Sustentable and Noroeste Sustentable) have launched new measures to reduce the number of fishing boats and the number of gill nets (the main threat to the vaquita) in the vaquita´s distribution area. Posters and information brochures dealing with the national vaquita conservation plan have been distributed to local communities. A program to develop alternative means for the fishermen to earn their livelihood has also been established. The integration of ecology, technology, socialsciences and economics is essential for the success of the vaquita conservation program.