Three live Vaquitas spotted!

Last month’s headline was “Three dead Vaquitas found.”

In a very welcome twist of fate, this month’s headline is the exact opposite.

From April 11 to 14, Drs. Barbara Taylor and Jay Barlow joined the crew of the Sea Shepherd M/Y Farley Mowat. Their goal was to spot Vaquitas, and they accomplished this goal in a big way. Between April 12 and 13, they spotted three separate Vaquitas, igniting even more optimism and hope for the future of this species.

However, these three individuals were seen in areas that are known to currently host rampant illegal fishing activity.

Click here to read more.

Sea Shepherd also used a drone to spot poachers using a gillnet at night. The fishermen quickly fled (their location was relayed to the Mexican Navy) and left their net behind, which Sea Shepherd retrieved from the water. Two scalloped hammerhead sharks and four cownose rays were already entangled, and unfortunately, the endangered hammerheads could not be saved. Since January, Sea Shepherd has removed 40 illegal gillnets and 13 longlines from the Vaquita’s range.

Sadly, Sea Shepherd is departing from the Gulf of California in the first week of May.

They will be arriving in San Diego on May 6, and we would like to give them a global “thank you” celebration for all of the amazing work they have done, and to show them that their efforts in the northern Gulf are highly appreciated (and desired again in the very near future). More updates to come on this.

From May 10 to 14, the 7th meeting of CIRVA, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, will take place. The focus of this meeting will be the publication of the latest population estimate, based on acoustic surveys and the fall 2015 expedition.

A new course of action will be discussed based on this new estimate, and we all hope that the number is higher than expected/feared.

Regardless of the new population estimate, we will continue our efforts will full force. Our main goal is for the Mexican government to agree to our petition to make the gillnet ban permanent, and we can’t accomplish this without your help. Please sign and share this petition. For the Vaquita.

tinyurl.com/vaquitaban

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Three dead Vaquitas found

A Vaquita conservationist’s biggest fear is the death of one of these magnificent creatures. This month, we are living the nightmare.

Three dead Vaquitas have been found in the past few weeks.

March madness indeed. Based on lacerations found during the autopsies, it is apparent that gillnet entanglement is the likely cause of death for these animals. Of course, this means that there is still illegal fishing happening, and that said fishing is killing Vaquitas, a species that cannot afford to lose even one individual.

The mortality rate of Vaquitas needs to be zero. For this to happen, enforcement needs to be stepped up permanently, fishing communities need to be educated and aided with sustainable fishing, and Totoaba swim bladder demand in Asia needs to be reduced.

To convince the Mexican government to take action on these issues, please sign this petition:

https://www.change.org/p/make-the-gillnet-ban-permanent-to-save-the-vaquita

Thanks to a much-needed increase in enforcement (by both the government and NGOs) in the past year, it is not too late to save the Vaquita. However, it is awfully close to it.

Here is a translated statement from PROFEPA:

“Faced with the possibility that these specimens died in gillnets or because of human activities, authorities will intensify inspection activities and night, land, and sea surveillance, especially at sites identified as Totoaba networks; in addition to seeking a rapprochement with the fishing guild to sensitize its members to refrain from poaching activities and forbidden arts.”
We need to make sure that they stand behind these words. On the human side of the effort, things are much better than they were a few years ago, but the Vaquita is still just a death or two away from eternal doom. Now isn’t the time to be casual or lax.

Now is the time to act decisively.

Dead Vaquita found by Sea Shepherd

Dead Vaquita found by Sea Shepherd

An essay on conservation

“I really wonder what gives us the right to wreck this poor planet of ours.”
—Kurt Vonnegut

Conservation is not the most glorious job. It is not the most fun job. It is not the highest-paying job. It is barely even talked about in job conversations.

However, it may just be the world’s most important job.

You are probably shaking your head or maybe even already clicking off of this page in disgust.

What about doctors? Teachers? Soldiers? You have to be joking! You think that tree-huggers are more important than brain surgeons or policemen putting their lives on the line?! This kid is an arrogant lunatic!

I understand and accept that this may sound completely insane to many, if not most, people, so let me clear a few things up. I am not saying anything about the people themselves who work in any of these fields. I’m sure there has been a conservationist that was a murderer, and the same for all of the jobs above. Also, I am not saying conservationists are necessarily more brave, smart, admirable, valiant, deserving, etc. than those in the above fields of work. I am also not saying that conservation is more valuable to our society than saving human lives or defending our country.

This is where the importance of my original statement’s wording comes into play. I said that conservation may be the world’s most important job. I did not say that conservation is the most important job for somebody that is sick. I didn’t say it is the most important job for our cities or countries. And I didn’t say it was the most important job for humanity in general.

It is the most important job for the world. All of the jobs above have one thing in common: they are only to help other people. Many people don’t realize that humanity is not the only thing that matters.

Conservation is the act of protecting nature from harm. And the last time I checked, there is quite a bit of harm being inflicted on nature. It could be said that conservation is literally the act of “saving the world.”

It is a very rare and admirable thing when a person truly believes that he and his species are not more important than any other animal on the planet. Yes, we are likely the smartest animal (key word, likely), and you may say, “Of course we should care more about our own species, it’s only natural! A chimpanzee wouldn’t help a human instead of another chimpanzee!”

This may be true. However, there is one important distinction that is the driving force of my entire argument (and conservation in general, for that matter): Chimpanzees aren’t chopping down rainforests, destroying the ozone layer, or killing innocent species in nets just to throw their corpses back into the water because they weren’t the target catch.

We are the only species that is truly destroying our planet. Chimpanzees have no responsibility for human welfare, because chimpanzees do not destroy human habitat or murder us by the millions for traditional “medicines.” It is absolutely impossible to justify the act of destroying our planet and then not trying to fix our damages. Conservationists are the people who are in charge of fixing those damages.

Human selfishness and greed has brought our entire planet to the brink. Just think of how well the planet’s species would be doing if humans never existed. More species are endangered now than ever before, and we are in the beginning of a sixth mass extinction.

And the one thing that people don’t realize is that we are included in this extinction. How can humans survive without plants and animals? If we continue this rate of destruction, we will not only ruin the planet, we will be committing suicide.

Here are three videos by Conservation International about our planet and what we are doing to it (view all of them here).

A few weeks ago I had a lengthy conversation with someone who was opposed to our petition to make the gillnet ban permanent. He believed that it would be unfair to remove the main livelihood available in the Gulf communities, and that the ban would cause hunger, crime, and poverty in the area. He said that we conservationists would need to teach the fishermen how to use the alternative fishing gear, as well as send down truckloads of food for the families that are not receiving compensation. While he had many good points throughout the conversation (up until he said that he will never believe that gillnets are the cause of the Vaquita’s plight), he was essentially misinformed in many facets and represented a very common issue that conservationists have to deal with.

Conservationists cannot do this alone. It is important to remember that our job is to protect the environment. We are not human rights activists; that is a completely separate and, of course, very important job. In this case, our main priority is saving the Vaquita. We will do whatever we can (within reason) to make that happen. We propose a ban, for example, to the government, and then it is their job to decide whether or not it should be put into place. While making this decision, they carefully weigh every side of the situation, human and animal. They choose what laws are created, not conservationists. They are also responsible for things like compensation and training.

Once again, our job is to protect the environment and its species. And ironically, we are protecting the environment from our own species. In many cases, humans are the enemy of conservationists, but in the Vaquita’s situation, most of the fishermen are not the enemy. The real enemies are the Totoaba cartels and the Asian markets that fuel them. But any fisherman that fishes illegally is, of course, a criminal. The shrimp fishermen who fish illegally in the Vaquita’s range are generally just driven by the hunger of their families, not the quick riches that the Totoaba cartels are after. Nonetheless, what they are doing must be stopped as well.

There is nothing that would make us Vaquita conservationists happier than seeing every Gulf fisherman making a good living by fishing sustainably or giving ecotours as the Vaquita’s population recovers and thrives. This is slightly unrealistic, but, for the most part, it can be accomplished. The hunger, crime, and poverty in Mexico have been occurring for much longer than we have even known about the Vaquita, let alone since the two-year ban started last year.

If Mexican fishing communities wish to prosper, going back to killing every animal in the ocean is not the answer. To see change, we need to change. Here we have a wonderful opportunity presented before us; an opportunity to pioneer a new way of living, a way of living that will soon be mandatory: peacefully coexisting with nature. And whatever happens in the Gulf will have global implications; a solution to this problem will echo across the conservation community, and therefore affect every last species.

Mexico has a chance to save the world.

Petition and Thunderclap progress report

I can’t believe how successful our petition to make the gillnet ban permanent and our social media Thunderclap campaign have become in such a short amount of time!

We started these campaigns about a month ago, and could have never predicted the sheer number of people that would support them.

Here are the statistics:

Campaign Stats

In other news, PROFEPA and Sea Shepherd have been making tremendous progress in ban enforcement and net confiscation. Despite inclement weather, dozens of Totoaba nets have been retrieved from the water, and multiple poacher arrests have been made in recent weeks. It is wonderful to see the Mexican government working closely with NGOs to accomplish a mutually desired goal!

If you haven’t already, please sign our petition and Thunderclap! Thank you.

Petition

Thunderclap

Make the gillnet ban permanent!

If the Vaquita is to be saved, four things need to happen:

  1. The gillnet ban is made permanent
  2. The ban is properly enforced
  3. The Totoaba swim bladder trade is shut down
  4. Alternative, Vaquita-safe fishing gear is developed and implemented

These are not going to be easy to accomplish, but Mexico certainly has the power and will to make them all a reality.

We need to show our support and clarify exactly what needs to be done to save this species. But how can I tell the Mexican government these four things? How can I make my voice heard?

Now there is an easy way.

The VIVA Vaquita Coalition has started a petition to get this message to:

President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto
Secretary of SEMARNAT Rafael Pacchiano Alamán
Director of CONAPESCA Mario A. Aguilar Sánchez
Minister of SAGARPA José Eduardo Calzada Rovirosa
Director of INAPESCA Dr. Pablo Arenas Fuentes
 ~~~~~

These people are extremely influential and literally have the power in their hands to save the Vaquita. If they agree to the four things above, the Vaquita will most likely thrive.

Signing the petition is extremely easy. All you have to do is fill in your name, email address, etc. and press Sign! Or you can log in to Change.org with Facebook or email, and literally just click one button to sign!

If there is one thing you ever do for the Vaquita, make it signing this petition.

Thank you from the VV coalition and the Vaquita.

To learn more and sign, click here:

https://www.change.org/p/make-the-gillnet-ban-permanent-to-save-the-vaquita

And don’t forget to support the Thunderclap!

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2016: The Year of the Vaquita

Thunderclap Poster.JPG

We have just launched a Thunderclap campaign to raise awareness for the Vaquita! Our recurring theme throughout 2016 will be “The Year of the Vaquita” and that 2016 will be a “make or break” year for the species. We are trying to get to 500 supporters before March 4, and if we do, the message below will be shared around the world! Please show your support!

“The critically endangered Vaquita porpoise is the rarest marine mammal species on the planet. Between 50 and 100 remain, and all of them live in a tiny region in the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Their only threat is accidental entanglement in fishing nets called gillnets, which are illegally set for the also-endangered Totoaba fish. There is a lucrative black market trade in Asia for the swim bladders of the Totoaba, fueling this highly destructive fishery. The Vaquita is simply an accidental victim in this situation, but nevertheless, it is on the absolute brink of extinction.

2016 is a “make or break” year for the Vaquita. Which one would you prefer?

We are doing everything we can to reverse the Vaquita’s decline, from online awareness to in-person outreach. One of our biggest efforts has been International Save the Vaquita Day, which has taken place on the second Saturday of July since 2013. ISTVD is a worldwide celebration of the Vaquita and the people trying to save it, through tables, festivals, and much more. This year it is on July 9, and we are going to make the event bigger than ever! We will have tables all around the world, as well as a huge social media effort, all to create buzz and educate the public about this extremely urgent cause! In 2015 we convinced the Mexican government to ban all gillnet fishing in the Vaquita’s range, which is amazing news! Now this year, we are going to have to make sure they flawlessly enforce the ban as well as make it permanent with the aid of Vaquita-safe fishing gear!

2016 has to be the Year of the Vaquita, or else it will be too late to save this magnificent animal.”

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/36220-2016-the-year-of-the-vaquita

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.