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The Living Desert Blog

Cetacean Conservation with JDB: Day 1

Dr. James Danoff-Burg December 15, 2018

Conservation, Care, and Breeding of the Vaquita and other Endangered Cetaceans

Well. After five countries, five flights (two more than planned), an unexpected overnight stay in Brussels, a train, a bus, and a slew of taxis, I'm finally at the Ex Situ Options for Cetacean Conservation workshop here in Nuremberg, Germany. It's been a LONG and challenging trip, but it will be worth it if we can achieve the challenging goal we have set. 

The workshop is organized by Dr. Lorenzo von Fersen of Zoo Nuremburg, and a few other colleagues. Our goal is to learn from past experiences with near shore small cetaceans (including the vaquita) to assist in the managed reproduction of porpoises better than we have been able to in the past. We hope to use the skills that exist in conservation facilities to ensure that insurance populations of these inspirational and treasured animals exist. The plan will be to use them to restore decimated populations, after the reasons for their declines have been addressed.

I am honored to have been asked to participate as leader of the AZA Vaquita SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) program, and because of my role on the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods (of humans) Species Specialist Group. (Lots of acronyms there!) I hope to make certain that we remember the importance of consulting and involving the people living where the animals live, and to create projects that benefit communities as well as animals. Similarly, I plan to remind everyone that we need to simultaneously address the threats to species survival in the wild, as we strive to breed the animals for release.

I feel incredibly honored to be here with these leaders in all aspects of cetacean conservation. What a team of global leaders am sitting with! It’s like I made it to the Major League Baseball All-Star game as the starting second baseman I always dreamt of as a kid. At the same time, I am a bit trepidacious about what I plan to suggest, as I fear it may not be a priority for the intended work plan.

Fingers crossed that over the next four days, my lack of sleep, probable jet lag, and intended possibly controversial messaging do not dull my effectiveness. The fate of at least seven other porpoise species may hang in the balance of our success.

We are collectively committed to ensuring that no other porpoise species have to face extinction full-on in the face, as does the vaquita. Please send your best wishes and prayers we are successful.

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