CLEARWATER — Seeking to harness the fame of its dolphins, Winter and Hope, for a worthy cause, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is launching a campaign to save a near-extinct species of porpoise.
The aquarium announced Friday that it's spearheading an effort to save the vaquita, a rare species of porpoise that lives in the northern part of the Gulf of California in Mexican territory.
The estimated number of vaquita dropped below 100 this year, putting it in danger of extinction. It's the most endangered marine mammal species in the world, according to the National Academy of Sciences.
The Clearwater aquarium is urging fans of its Dolphin Tale movies to go to the aquarium's website, seewinter.com, to sign a petition that will be sent to the president of Mexico.
The small porpoises are dying because they get entangled in gillnets, giant nets used by fishermen in that region. The Mexican government is considering a two-year ban on such nets in the porpoise's habitat, which would help the vaquita repopulate.
"We all know the phrase 'extinction is forever.' It can really happen," said David Yates, the aquarium's CEO. "A dolphin species in China went extinct just a few years ago."
Aside from the petition, aquarium officials will seek to book Winter and Hope on national TV shows like Good Morning America and the Today show to publicize the vaquita's plight.
The aquarium also says it intends to collaborate with other organizations on researching a long-term solution, such as an alternative net that does not entangle the vaquita.
Vaquita get caught unintentionally by fishermen who use gillnets to catch totoaba fish, also an endangered species, which are poached for their swim bladder. Fishermen can get paid up to $10,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) for these bladders, which are thought to have medicinal qualities in China.
"We have an opportunity to take meaningful action and actually stop the extinction of an animal," said Bob Talbot, a well-known marine photographer who shot underwater sequences for Dolphin Tale 2. "It's a rare opportunity."
Contact Mike Brassfield at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @MikeBrassfield.