“Year of the Vaquita” Materials Available!

Copyright Whale Times. Used with permission.

I am excited to share that material I’ve been working on with Whale Times, Inc., The Oregon Coast Aquarium, and Southwest Fisheries Science Center (NOAA Fisheries) for The Year of the Vaquita will be available to classroom teachers and other science educators soon. You can see a sneak peek of the material on the Whale Times website.

The Year of the Vaquita is an effort to raise awareness of and take action to help the vaquita, the world’s most endangered whale (Vaquita Fact Sheet). As of this writing there are estimated to by about 30 of these tiny porpoises remaining in the world, down from an estimated 60 individuals last summer. Vaquitas occupy a range about the size of the state of Rhode Island in the northern end of the Gulf of California. The primary threat to the population is entrapment in nets set for other species. Even though strict controls have been enacted for portions of the vaquitas’ home range, illegal fishing, particularly nets set for a fish called the totoaba (Totoaba Fact Sheet), whose swim bladders are highly prized in China, continue to kill vaquita.

Efforts are underway at government and agency levels to save these animals. How can you help? First, you can help raise awareness by spreading the word. Second, and most importantly, you can make sure the seafood you buy is sustainable. This is the single most important thing consumers can do to help not just the vaquita, but ocean ecosystems all over the globe.

What is Sustainable Seafood?

Sustainable seafood is seafood harvested in a way that meets these three criteria:

  1. Enough individuals are left after harvesting to ensure populations remain healthy and able to reproduce for future harvests.
  2. Harvesting methods do not damage the habitat of the target species as well as other species in the associated food webs.
  3. Harvesting methods avoid by-catch. “By-catch” is the capture of non-target species, including turtles, sharks, seabirds, and whales.

Opportunities for Teachers and Science Educators

Grades K-5
Whale Times is preparing free curriculum materials for elementary classrooms. As mentioned above, a sample of some of those materials is available. In addition, there are opportunities to participate in the Celebration of Conservation this spring. This celebration includes free classroom materials, and Skype and email contact with scientists. Here is the description from the Whale Times website:

Kids, teachers, and schools become Science Team members for three important research projects. Join WhaleTimes for another exciting Virtual Research Mission with gray whale expert Dr. Dave Weller, vaquita expert Dr. Barbara Taylor, and Dr. Daniel Costa, the Costa Lab Team, and Dr. Patrick W. Robinson UC Año Nuevo Island Reserve Director will share on-going research with the magnificent elephant seal.

Grades 9-12
Free high school materials are available through the Oregon Coast Aquarium’s Oceanscape network.

I hope you and your students will join us on this important exploration.