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Hey Reddit, My name is Sean Bogle , and I’m here with Matthew Podolsky. We’re Conservation Filmmakers with the Nonprofit Organization Wild Lens INC. We recently completed work on our Documentary “Souls of the Vermilion Sea” in order to understand why the Vaquita are going extinct. Feel free to view it through the avenues below
U.S Youtube - (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rm0MFhhbBs)
English International Version (https://vimeo.com/212128879)
Spanish International Version - (https://vimeo.com/215766379)
Vaquita, meaning small cow in Spanish, is the smallest of all cetacean species. It is a porpoise that is endemic to the northern portion of the Gulf of California, and it is currently the most endangered marine mammal on Earth. With less than 30 individuals remaining on the planet, this species is teetering on the brink of extinction. A Vaquita sanctuary was created within their range, however there have been very little to no attempts to protect it. The Vaquita is mainly threatened by the illegal trade in rare swim bladders run by Mexico's dangerous drug cartels.
We’d like to get awareness of the issue out there, so feel free to ask us anything and everything to help spread the word. We’re here with Leo Mercado who will also assist us with using reddit, and answering Questions.
Hey, this is Leo and I'll be testing your ability to use Reddit. Can you respond to this question?
Hi Leo, it is a pleasure to meet you.
So who funds all these expeditions?
A lot of the funding comes from the Mexican government, but there are also US-based groups, such as the National Marine Mammal Foundation and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that have played central roles in both funding and expertise.
About the extinction of animals. Is there anything we could do to preserve the species like freeze DNA for future purposes or have surrogate birth from Vaquita's close cousin?
The vaquita is a difficult species to retrieve samples from. Despite this difficulty, all samples collected during necropsy are being stored, but there is no intention to utilize DNA at this time. The concept of a surrogate birth with a close relative is more theory based. The largest obstacle here is just capturing this cryptic creature and with a rapidly declining population and unknown survival probability the stakes are high.
Have you ever shit yourself on a expedition?
Not yet, luckily! But we'll see what the future holds...
When you say it is threatened by the cartels, is it because it is used as a drug or is it more of a belief thing like bear bile and powdered rhino horn?
So the Mexican drug cartels are involved in smuggling the swim bladders of a fish species called the totoaba. This illegal wildlife trade is driven by the demand for these swim bladders in China - where there is a belief that the product has medicinal benefits like bear bile and rhino horn. This illegal trade is driving LOTS on illegal totoaba fishing in the upper Gulf of California, and this illegal fishing is wiping out the vaquita, because the vaquita can easily become entangled and drown in the totoaba nets.
In addition - the swim bladders of the totoaba are now worth so much money, that they have become an investment commodity in China. Lots of the people who are buying them are not buying them to consume them and get these supposed medicinal benefits, but as an investment or status symbol. People will hang the dried, preserved swim bladders on their wall.
So are you guys right now focus on captive breeding programs?
Wild Lens is focusing on all aspects of this story. As for the groups that are on the front lines trying to save the species, yes, captive breeding has moved to the forefront of the effort. This is a last ditch effort since all the other efforts have either failed and time is running out.
I've heard about plans to capture vaquitas for captive breeding- have conservationists had any luck with this? What are the odds of catching any of the surviving 30?
The captive breeding effort is extremely controversial. Scientist are being cautious, and staying that this is not a captive breeding program and it is an effort to capture vaquita and place them in a temporary sanctuary in the Upper Gulf of California. The vaquita captures are loosely scheduled for October 2017. The ultimate goal is to capture at least 10 vaquita individuals. Now with that said, females and males must both be captured. Also, the population of vaquita is less than 30. 30 individuals was reported as of fall of 2016. Since there there have been 4 confirmed mortalities, but those are what were just discovered. There are probably others that have died.
Sigh. People suck.
Yes, it's a deeply troubling situation. It's difficult to not give up hope - but we have to remember that lots of other species have recovered from similarly precipitous population declines. There were at one time only 22 California condors on the planet - now there are over 400.
What does Wild Lens hope to accomplish with their series of films about the vaquita?
Well... our ultimate goal is to raise awareness about the vaquita. We want out film releases to be actively used by everyone to spread the word about the plight of the vaquita. More importantly, we want to impact the people of the northern Upper Gulf of California and get them involved in conserving this endemic species. It is important that the people, especially the youth of this region are involved in protecting their ecosystem.
We recently traveled down to San Felipe, Mexico and screened at local schools for hundreds of students and the result was amazing. The film engaged them and made them think what about what is happening in their communities. This is where change starts.
additional comment: Thus far we have released two films from the Souls of the Vermilion Sea project. We will create a feature length film in the near future incorporating all the aspects of this story. We have been releasing short films as we want the information to be relevant and not after the fact. We want to share the vaquita's story with the world while the vaquita still exists.
Be careful man, word of advice.. don't ever gamble on a fart
Especially when the Mexican drug cartels are involved...
Wait is that real?
Yes! The Mexican drug cartels are involved in smuggling the swim bladders of an endangered fish called the totoaba from Mexico to the US and China. This illegal wildlife trade is driving the extinction of the vaquita through bycatch from the nets set to catch totoaba. And the presence of the drug cartels in this small fishing community is threatening the safety of the people who live there. So yes, this shit is real.
Well what are you as well as others doing to prevent this? I know it's probably something very dangerous but is there anyone at least attempting to take control of the situation?
Yes, there are lots of groups involved in trying to stop this illegal trade. For our part - we produced a 30-min documentary about the issue with the goal of educating as many people as possible about what's going on. There are groups working in Mexico trying to find ways to shut down the illegal totoaba fishing, and groups working in China to try to stop the demand for totoaba swim bladders. The problem is that there is very little time left to save the vaquita - the species could be extinct by the end of this year.