Scientists Save Cells From Endangered Mexican Porpoise

Published: Monday, August 13, 2018 - 4:30pm
Updated: Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - 8:05am
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Paula Olson/NOAA Fisheries (2008)
Scientists have saved tissues cells from two female vaquita porpoises.

Conservation scientists were able to save tissue cells from an endangered porpoise that lives in the Sea of Cortez. That's an important scientific step, but not one that will save the animal from extinction.

Scientists with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research announced last Friday that they were able to successfully save cells collected from two female porpoises in 2017.

The porpoises are called vaquitas, or little cows, and there are fewer than 30 left in the wild.

The cell tissue was first collected to help scientists maintain diversity in a captive vaquita population.

But vaquitas couldn't be captured safely, so scientists can't use the cells that way, said Barbara Taylor, a marine conservation biologist with NOAA Fisheries in San Diego.

"But that's okay, no harm done. Who knows what the future may bring, really," Taylor said.

She said the cells have a lot of value for science. Conservation scientists will be able to study the small porpoises' genetic diversity and better understand it's resiliency.

The cells are not, however, a realistic solution for saving vaquitas, Taylor said. For that, changes will have to be made to prevent both legal and illegal fishing that is killing the vaquita.

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