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How Navy-Trained Bottlenose Dolphins May Save the Vaquita


How Navy-Trained Bottlenose Dolphins May Save the Vaquita

Yikes! There are less than 60 vaquitas left on the planet!

What are Vaquitas?

In case you didn’t know…

They are the world’s smallest cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises, whales).  They’re also the most endangered marine mammal on the planet.

A Rescue Plan


Navy-Trained Bottlenose Dolphins May Save the Vaquita
Navy-Trained Bottlenose Dolphins May Save the Vaquita

But not all is lost, though. They’re cousins, the bottlenose dolphins, are coming to the rescue!

Let’s take a firsthand look at how navy-trained bottlenose dolphins may save the vaquita.

But first of all…

Why are the Vaquitas in Danger?

Fishermen use ‘gillnets’ to catch the totoaba fish.

These totoaba ‘gillnets’, which are banned, happen to also catch the vaquita dolphin.

The problem is this: the swim bladder of the totoaba fish can be sold for 7,000 USD to 14,000 USD on the blackmarket. Some even call it “aquatic cocaine”.

The Totoaba: China’s Prized Delicacy

Why is this swim bladder so valuable in China?

Because they believe it can help with a wide variety of ailments from infertility to achy joints. Before they used the swim bladder of the yellow croaker, before it’s numbers diminished.

Why is the Totoaba Swim Bladder So Expensive?

How Navy-Trained Bottlenose Dolphins May Save the Vaquita - totoaba fish

The totoaba is endangered as well. This, and vaquita protection efforts, have made fishing the totoaba illegal.

When you pair this fact with the strong demand, you’ve created the perfect recipe for illegal trade. What you have is…

  • low supplies (endangered totoaba)
  • high demand (some Chinese believe it to be a miracle drug)
  • a high enough price to entice people to break the law

Ultimate it comes down to this sad truth…

There’s A LOT more money in killing the totoaba—and the vaquita—than there is in protecting them.

Navy-Trained Bottlenose Dolphins to the Rescue

But luckily…

The U.S. Navy trains bottlenose dolphins to use their ability to dive deep and use sonar, to locate mines and other objects. In this case, the vaquita.

Here’s the plan.

  1. Send the navy-trained bottlenose dolphins down to find the vaquitas
  2. Once the dolphin reports back
  3. Capture the vaquita
  4. Transport back to an enclosed-pen in the sea

There, they would be free from gillnets and have the protection to reproduce to safe numbers.

At least…in theory.

The Counterargument

Other experts say the rescue mission is too risky. The remaining female vaquitas could die, guaranteeing their extinction.


…there may be no choice in the matter as no better rescue alternative exists.

The navy-trained bottlenose dolphins will start their rescue mission sometime this spring.

The Brief History of the Vaquita

How Navy-Trained Bottlenose Dolphins May Save the Vaquita

The vaquita wasn’t officially discovered until 1950!

Even stranger…

Scientists didn’t see one live until 1985!

The Size & Look of the Vaquita

As mentioned earlier, the vaquita(meaning small cow in Spanish) is the smallest cetacean.

Its dimensions are…

  • 9 to 4.9 feet in length (120 to 150 cms.)
  • 120 pounds in weight (55 kilograms)

It has small dark rings around its eyes and mouth.


vaquita infografic
how navy trained bottlenose dolphins may save the vaquita infografic


  • We’ve only known the vaquitas for about 30 years.
  • Their global numbers have shrunk to below 60.
  • Illegal trade remains its number one threat.
  • S. Navy trained bottlenose dolphins to use deep-diving and sonar to locate the vaquitas
  • The mission is risky and dangerous—but it may be their only hope.

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