Happy holidays!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season and is taking this time to enjoy their families, friends, hobbies, and the little things in life. It is very important to appreciate the people and things we take for granted, because you never know when they will be gone. I also hope that some of you are still thinking about the Vaquita, and are preparing for what is sure to be one of the most historic years in the history of conservation:

2016: The Year of the Vaquita

Our team firmly believes that 2016 is a make or break year for this species. I don’t know about you, but we sure want it to be a “make” year. If all goes as well or better than it did this year, the Vaquita could very well be on its way to recovery. It has been too many years in a row that we have been wishing for things to get better. Things are finally starting to turn around, but it is still up to us wildlife warriors to make sure things stay on track. We need to sign petitions, make donations, create social media campaigns, and take the world by storm with International Save the Vaquita Day 2016. Let’s keep the pressure on, and never give up the fight.

A very special Christmas gift for someone who truly cares about wildlife is to make a donation to the Vaquita on their behalf. A truly amazing person will genuinely appreciate this gift, even though there is nothing physical to unwrap, although you could get creative and give them something to open, like a stuffed dolphin with a Vaquita donation certificate. (This is a great last-minute gift because there is no shipping involved.)

One of the most exciting developments that occurred this year was Sea Shepherd’s sudden, unprecedented, and impactful involvement in the situation by having a vessel (about to be two vessels!) in the water patrolling the Vaquita refuge, removing nets, photographing Vaquitas, teaming up with the Mexican government, and getting the Mexican Navy to arrest poachers. The first leg of this mission was earlier in 2015, and the second leg just began. They call this campaign Operation Milagro, which is Spanish for miracle. We hope there will be a miracle for the Vaquita! Here are the first four episodes of their new vlog series (click here for the entire playlist, where they post a new video every Tuesday morning), documenting the amazing things they are accomplishing! It’s basically like watching Whale Wars, but much more peaceful! Click here to support Operation Milagro II: http://www.seashepherd.org/milagro2/

The best news of the year is probably the fact that almost no gillnets have been found in the Vaquita’s refuge since enforcement of the 2-year ban began. Because of this, at the very recent 21st biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in San Francisco (MarMam15), the Mexican government and its Vaquita recovery team was awarded with the first-ever International Conservation Merit Prize. Senator Rafael Pacchiano Alamán received a standing ovation from a huge room of marine mammal scientists and enthusiasts after his optimistic acceptance speech. Mexico must really feel motivated to continue with this tremendous progress, especially now that all eyes are on them.

Take a look at these two sonar readings of fishing boats in the Vaquita refuge, one from the 2008 survey, and one from this year’s. This is wonderful news (photo via Twitter courtesy of Emily McParland from the MarMam15 conference):

Sonar readings

The new issue of the Journal of Marine Animals and Their Ecology just came out, and this one is exclusively about the Vaquita! This is a great issue, with many worthy reads. William Whittenbury and I wrote an article in this issue about why everyone should care about the Vaquita’s survival. Check it out!

http://oers.ca/journal/volume8/issue1/issue.pdf

And finally, please sign the new Defenders of Wildlife Vaquita petition asking the U.S. government to eliminate the illegal smuggling of Totoaba swim bladders through the United States: http://www.defenders.org/content/save-vaquita-0

I will sign off for the year (unless there is a huge announcement or breaking news in the next week) with a throwback to 2011. Exactly 4 years ago, I wrote this poem as a tribute to the classic work “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clark Moore. It was one of my first poems on this blog, so don’t be too critical.

See you in 2016 for The Year of the Vaquita, and have a wonderful V-mas!

‘Twas the night before V-mas,

And all through the pod

Vaquita were gossiping,

With whispers and nods.

The fish were packed in the coral with care,

In hopes that St. Blue Whale would soon be there.

The calves all rested on the water’s surface,

But they couldn’t sleep because they were nervous.

The parents set out the croakers and milk,

And lay on their seabeds, softer than silk.

When up on the surface arose such a splash

That sounded like Narwhals in heated clash.

Papa V swam to the top like a jet.

And guess who was there? Guess whom he met?

St. Blue Whale, floating with a smirk.

Warm eyes and a smile, he couldn’t be a jerk.

He had eight antsy dolphins pulling his reins,

And a sack full of treats like seaweed canes.

He left some presents under the Christmas Reef,

And called to his dolphins, “Now Swimmer, now Spinner, now Breacher and Sleef,

On Logger, on Ringer, on Pinger and Turf!”

And St. Whale and his pod swam off in the surf.

More than a porpoise

Poverty or bladder?
Who would skip the latter?

Temptation prevails,
Porpoises ail.

Cheap or friendly,
Which one is deadly?

With little time,
They make a dime.

Morals fly out the door.
Who wants to be poor?

Shake a few hands,
Make a few bucks,
Take the organs away
In a pickup truck.

The unused victim
Rots away,
Wash and repeat,
Day after day.

To see change,
We need to change.
It may sound strange.
Why should I rearrange?
I’m not deranged.

But we have control.
Of their little souls.

We need to step up
Before they sink down.

Bold, courageous, crazy,
We can’t be lazy.

It is our job to cut connections,
It is our job to puncture sails.

It is our job to enlighten.
Our job not to frighten.

We must work together,
Fight together,
Succeed together,
Die together.

Not just us.
Everyone.

Saving the Vaquita
Would be enormous.
After all,

It’s a lot more than just a porpoise.

New Vaquita art

Here is a poem that I wrote for an upcoming poetry competition focused on ocean pollution:

THE NETS WE FORGET

The dark gray sky casts its shadow on the sea,
The sea swells with the wind, whipping up froth.
Thunder booms among the rolling clouds;
Lightning flashes in the distance,
But underneath, it is calm.
The muffled sound of the storm above dances off the coral.
Small reef fish swarm in and out of nooks and crannies.
All seems fine at first, but there is something wrong here.
A ghost enters the scene.
A nearly invisible drifter.
A gillnet.
But this fishing net does not belong to anybody.
It has been abandoned,
But its job is not done.
This ghost still has lives to take.
First comes a shrimp,
A puny pink prawn:
Gone.
His life ends and is doomed to drift away,
Trapped forever.
Next is a fish.
A huge one at that.
He swims right into the net,
And in the blink of an eye,
The life leaves his body.
A little porpoise swims through the shallows,
Bubbles dancing down her side.
She’s teaching her baby how to fish.
They happen upon a juicy meal,
But as the mother darts towards the target,
She is struck by a web of death.
The fish they were chasing
Was already a victim.
The baby, terrified, watches as her mother writhes in agony.
And the ghost has taken yet another life.

Here is a double exposure image, made from a Vaquita photograph and an ocean sunset photograph that I combined using digital software:Vaquita Double Exposure

And here is a mosaic of a Vaquita made out of hundreds of photographs taken during International Save the Vaquita Days 2014 & 2015:

ISTVD Mosaic

International Save the Vaquita Day has become a huge event, and one that has been—and will continue to be—making a legitimate difference for the Vaquita and its survival. Showing the people and government of Mexico that the world cares about the Vaquita and appreciates their efforts to date will hopefully inspire them to follow through with their promises and actually save this species. To make ISTVD 2016 the biggest one yet, help ignite the buzz and donate to the event by buying a cool ISTVD 2016 t-shirt!

https://www.booster.com/international-save-the-vaquita-day-2016

The Great Puzzle

This box shone like none before,
glistening.

Colors danced around
in harmony.

Simply put, twas simply beautiful;
simple.

The kind of puzzle you complete
to relax.

Like a sandy stroll,
thoughtless yet peaceful.

Eagerly, I slid off the lid,
antsy.

I could not believe it.

The sight stunned me,
breathless.

Hundreds, no, thousands
of tiny pieces.

Smugly piled on top of each other,
“I’m impossible,” they seemed to jeer.

But I smirked.
I had finished bigger jigsaws before.

Dumping the contents on a table,
I began.

At first, it was not easy,
I didn’t know where to start.

But I got the hang of it,
piece by piece.

I laid the groundwork,
relieving my future self.

But then something happened
that changed everything.

I glanced over and saw a timer:
20 minutes left.

It smiled evilly,
mocking me.

My hands began to shake,
sweating.

I looked at all the pieces.
Too many.

I wanted to quit.

But I looked again at the box.
The finished puzzle was wonderful.

I got back to work,
frantically.

I put down every piece I could.
But it was not enough.

10 minutes.

I was so close,
yet so far.

I tried every strategy I could think of.
5 minutes.

But I had an idea.

I called over some friends
to conquer this thing together.

We used all of our hands, and did everything we could.

Ten seconds.

Even closer.

At last, we got every piece in.
But wait!

There was still a blank space in the puzzle.
5 seconds.

I looked under the table, and found it:
The last piece.

I quickly put it in the open space just as the timer ran out.

We did it.

We all celebrated and cheered,
and I looked at the puzzle.

It was a picture of a mother and baby Vaquita,
Safely swimming.

The puzzle is a metaphor for the Vaquita’s situation. The solution seems simple, yet there are endless tiny pieces that must be put together in order to save the species. There is also the added pressure of a biological timer, the decline of the population. But if we work together, we can solve this real-life jigsaw puzzle.

And the finished product will be beautiful.

Times have changed

I remember when I was a little boy
first learning about the Vaquita.
I was filled with wonder and determination…
Determination to keep them on this planet.
I donated my Christmas money;
I didn’t get souvenirs when the rest of my family did,
so I could donate even more.
I told everyone I knew,
and told them to do the same.
I even started a Vaquita club at my school to raise money.
I emailed the experts as often as I could,
and read every book and website with the word, “Vaquita.”
I don’t exactly remember what I thought was going to happen to the species,
but I know what I wanted to happen.
That was around the time Chris Johnson’s movie came out,
and I loved it.
But I was also scared…
Scared we might lose the Vaquita forever.
Thinking back upon these things,
I wasn’t doing very much.
But I loved doing it.
Then came V-log.
I still remember coming up with the name,
“A vlog is a video-blog, and Vaquita starts with V, so it could be a Vaquita-blog!”
I was 11 at the time, so I wasn’t the best with websites.
My first post was,
“Vaquita is Spanish for ‘little cow.'”
I became obsessed with learning and writing about the Vaquita,
so I started a book on it.
When I finished writing the book,
I kind of stopped for a little while.
But then my passion was rekindled by art.
I learned that I love to draw, especially Vaquitas.
I began illustrating my book.
And then, on one fateful March morning,
I received a comment.
It was from William Whittenbury.
He told me all about his club,
The Muskwa Club.
My life changed dramatically on that day.
Together, we have accomplished so much.
Videos, tables, my book’s publishing,
and National Save the Vaquita Day.
This event coincided with the Official Norm law,
and this summer was one of utter awesomeness for the Vaquita,
and me.
I am learning the ways of a businessman, conservationist, and artist.
Or some combination of the three…
Muskwa and I may be getting some pretty crazy ideas,
but hey, they are working.

And there has never been a more exciting time in the world of the Vaquita.

Guilt

Alright.

I want you to go deep into your memory.

Back to when you were a kid.

When the world was simpler,

Yet more wondrous.

Now travel to the worst memory of your life.

Maybe the day you broke your leg and ruined your summer.

Or maybe someone died.

Like a friend.

Or a family member.

Someone you loved.

Think about all the tears and the pain.

How their loss changed your life.

How dearly you missed them.

How you wish you go back in time and be with them.

How you hoped it wasn’t real.

The Vaquita is a family member.

A brother.

A sister.

A father.

A mother.

Except this family member,

You can save.

If the Vaquita goes extinct,

You may not even know.

You could find out years later.

How guilty would you feel?

Did you ever feel so guilty,

Because you knew that something was your fault,

But someone else was punished.

Minorly or majorly.

Extinction is not minor.

Extinction means ‘to extinguish.’

Forever.

In a way,

Losing the Vaquita is worse than losing a loved one.

Because we completely control the fate of the Vaquita.

We are holding the entire species in our hands.

Like a fragile egg.

We can manipulate its success.

Not individually,

But as a group,

A whole,

We can save the Vaquita.

Because if we don’t,

The guilt will be overwhelming.

The present

The present is an important time.

By now, the present is in the past.

And there is nothing you can change about the past.

However, the only time you can change the future

Is right now.