Oct 10, 2017

Effort to capture world's most endangered dolphin begins

Two endangered vaquita swim in the gulf of Mexico. Photo: Paula Olson, NOAA Contractor; taken under permit: Oficio No. DR/488/08

On Wednesday, four U.S. Navy-trained bottlenose dolphins will sweep through the Gulf of Mexico with one purpose: to find and capture a tiny porpoise called the vaquita, which is the most endangered marine mammal alive. The ultimate goal is to capture the roughly 30 remaining vaquita, and keep them safe until they can be re-released.

Why it matters: This is a last-ditch effort to save the iconic species and one that isn't undertaken lightly because some species of porpoise die when they're captured. But Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, who coordinates Mexico's marine mammal research and conservation program, tells Axios it's unlikely the vaquita will survive another illegal fishing season without help.

The threats: Most vaquita deaths are caused by the illegal totoaba fishing industry. Although fishing for totoaba is illegal, trade in the fish's swim baldder "is worth more than cocaine," says Rojas-Bracho. Totoaba are roughly the same size as vaquita, and the porpoises are easily caught in their nets. Derelict, or 'ghost gear' is also a problem: abandoned nets still drift in the sea, entangling animals as they pass.

But, but, but: "But we don't know if it'll work. No one's ever tried to capture a vaquita before," Tanya Sanerib, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, tells Axios.

The process will be slow. First, they'll catch just one. If the porpoise seems healthy, they'll observe it for 48 hours in a seapen. If it does OK in captivity, they'll methodically catch the rest. The budget only lasts a month, though, and soon the seas will be too rough to catch porpoises so the effort may take more than a year.

What's next: "The real conservation comes when you release the animals," says Rojas-Bracho. "This is just buying us time." That time is needed to end the illegal fishery, find alternative forms of income for the fishermen, and remove ghost nets from the water.

Go deeper

LATAM Airlines files for U.S. chapter 11 bankruptcy

A LATAM air attendant aboard one of the company's planes in March. Photo: Kike Calvo/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

LATAM Airlines Group SA said in a statement early Tuesday the firm and its affiliates in in the United States, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S.

Why it matters: Latam is Latin America's largest airline and its shareholders include Delta Air Lines. CEO Roberto Alvo noted in the statement the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the airline industry.

Novavax starts human trials for coronavirus vaccine

Novavax's Nita Patel with a computer model showing the protein structure of a potential coronavirus vaccine at the lab in Gaithersburg, Maryland in March. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Novavax began clinical trials of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus in Australia on Tuesday, per a statement from the Maryland-based biotechnology firm.

The state of play: 131 volunteers in the Australian cities of Melbourne and Brisbane will undergo injections as part of the study, the company’s research chief Gregory Glenn said during a briefing, per Australian Associated Press.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 5,495,061 — Total deaths: 346,232 — Total recoveries — 2,231,738Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 1,662,302 — Total deaths: 98,220 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy