Dolphins, who are held captive by the Navy in San Deigo Bay, are being forced to hunt down Vaquita porpoises as part of a misguided conservation effort that has resulted in one Vaquita death already.
The plan, known as Vaquita CPR, may sound good at first glance. Dolphins Andrea, Fathom, Katrina and Splash have been transported to San Felipe, in Baja California, where they have been deployed to the wild ocean to locate and round up the Vaquita, of whom there are an estimated 30 individuals left. The captured porpoises would then be sent to a 46-square meter pen in the bay, where scientists will attempt to establish a breeding colony to eventually release back into the wild.
A few days ago, the Vaquita CPR team inadvertently killed their first porpoise. In a statement, the team notes that she was a “mature female vaquita”, yet they continue to refer to her as “it”.
Some are shocked at how this effort could have failed so terrifically so far. But the reason that small porpoise died is because of the speciesism that is baked into the foundation of Vaquita CPR.
The problem at its core is this: the effort, and every person involved, categorically refuses to take into consideration the feelings of any of the cetaceans involved. Unfortunately, this is all too typical of the contemporary conservation movement – one that regards other species only in terms of populations and their value to ecosystems, denying individuals of other species any ability to feel, think, or have opinions as to how they’d like to be treated.
This problem is something that a burgeoning movement, known as Compassionate Conservation, attempts to circumvent. From this compassionate perspective, every individual matters – take, for example, the Navy’s bottlenose dolphins who are tasked with rounding up the porpoises. Questions as to how they might feel about swimming free in the ocean would be asked, since this is something that they’ve been denied for decades – or in the cases of captive born individuals, their entire lives. What might Katrina and Fathom and Andrea and Splash think of the porpoises they encounter out there in the depths? And how will it feel for them to be returned to their Navy cages after the program is over, stored away like equipment, until the next time they become “useful”?
Then there is the side of the Vaquita to consider. As a species that is facing extinction, thanks to deadly fishing practices that are catching and drowning them in shrimp and fish nets, they are already likely stressed. Imagine seeing one’s own kind dwindle to nearly nothing; what a feeling of isolation and solitude that must be. The last thing these porpoises need is more stress. Although Vaquita CPR emphasizes that only the “less stressed” individuals captured will be taken into captivity (and how they will accurately measure this remains questionable), this still means that they intend to separate families for long periods of time, and in some cases forever, such as has already happened. While it remains unclear, there is also a possibility that they may subject females to forced impregnation – rape – in order to build up the population again.
Isolation, rape, ripping apart of families and death: these are the unfortunate hallmarks of “conservation”, the sort that zoos and aquariums, in particular, love to employ. While intentions might be good, the methods, and perceptions and treatment of others, needs to be questioned. A much more effective way to save the lives of the Vaquita would be to remove from the waters what is killing them: the gill nets. Add to this the fact that the Navy will benefit from all the positive press this project is attempting to generate, and you have the perfect storm of conservation – one that has already caused a great deal of suffering for the beleaguered Vaquita.
How many Vaquita will die in this effort to “conserve” them? Only time will tell, but it’s rather unlikely that only one death will deter them.
Photo sourced from article.