WWF’s successes of 2013

As the year draws to a close, WWF takes a look back on the wonderful year of 2013 in their “15 WWF Success Stories of 2013.” Of course, the biggest Vaquita news in recent memory took place this June in the form of the Official Norm law, a new regulation that guarantees that all shrimp gillnets will be phased into Vaquita-safe trawls within the next 3 years! The Vaquita is featured at number 6 on the list because it was WWF’s petition (which garnered over 38,000 signatures from 127 countries) that caused the law in the first place. We cannot give enough thanks to WWF and everyone else that has helped the Vaquita so far in its eventful, 55-year history with us (the Vaquita was discovered in 1958). Let’s have a toast to a great 2014 for the Vaquita!

My sister and I came up with a fun holiday activity to find out your Vaquita name! For example, my name is Aidan and I was born in March, so my Vaquita name would be, “Vita Marina.” Have fun and please share!

What's your Vaquita name?

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American Cetacean Society

The American Cetacean Society is one of the leaders in Vaquita conservation. Founded in 1967 and comprised of 7 chapters and a Student Coalition, they are the world’s first organization dedicated to saving whales. Here are the links to the chapters:

Los Angeles
Monterey Bay
Orange County
Puget Sound
San Diego
San Francisco Bay
Oregon
Student Coalition

The Monterey Bay Chapter was one of the 3 founding members of ¡Viva Vaquita!, and the Los Angeles Chapter has been an extremely helpful ally to the Muskwa Club. The American Cetacean Society has two publications, the quarterly newsletter, Spyhopper, and the biannual, theme-specific Whalewatcher. In 2010 they published a Whalewatcher about porpoises, especially the Vaquita. The two most recent Spyhoppers also featured amazing articles about the Vaquita:

Viva Vaquita by Ayla Glim, Pages 6-8: http://acsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/SpyhopperQtr2-2013-FINAL_2.pdf

Vaquita, Net Gains and Net Losses by Barbara Taylor, Pages 1-5: http://acsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Spyhopper-Nov.-2013.pdf

The November issue shocked me with these few paragraphs!

“For the first time since I’ve been working with Vaquita there are some concrete steps that people from outside Mexico can do (or will be able to soon), and here are three things you can do to help:

1. Support Vaquita-safe seafood products
Fishermen are more likely to convert to Vaquita-friendly fishing gear if there is market incentive to do so. WWF Mexico (http://wwf.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/mexico/?208988/Mexico-approves-measure-to-save-worlds-rarestmarine-mammal) with funds from the US Marine Mammal Commission and several private foundations are planning a series of events to promote Vaquita-safe seafood. The hope is that this will do for Vaquita what ‘dolphin-safe’ labeling on cans of tuna did for millions of dolphins in the eastern Pacific. These events will feature top chefs serving Vaquita-safe shrimp alongside Vaquita wine. The idea is to connect the fishermen who are sustainably harvesting seafood with outlets that cater to conscientious consumers, and rewarding those fishermen with a bit higher price for their value-added product. The events will need planning, labor, and folks to enjoy the food.

2. Establish and support grassroots education and fund-raising campaigns
There is a need for educating the public about Vaquita. Last year saw the first “Save the Vaquita Day” initiated by a grassroots effort by elementary, middle and high school students of the Muskwa Club founded in Long Beach, California https://sites.google.com/site/muskwaclub/ with the support from several ACS chapters. The Muskwa Club even made a nice video, which can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zj3T724txo4. This tri-coastal campaign reached thousands of people through Vaquita events and we can hope that this effort grows. These events and future plans can be seen on the website above and in the ACSLA Chapter report. The group ¡Viva Vaquita! (http://www.vivavaquita.org/) also continues to attend events and do programs in schools to raise awareness, and has just distributed educational brochures and coloring books to schools near the fishing port of San Felipe, Mexico. A kindergarten class at Frances Parker School in San Diego adopted Vaquita as their special project and raised funds. The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC http://www.marinemammalcenter.org/), can accept funds by sending checks to Frances Gulland at their address with a note that the funds are for saving Vaquita. A few times a year, TMMC will transfer those funds to support WWF-Mexico projects aimed at training shrimp fishermen in the northern Gulf how to use alternative gear. Vaquita.tv continues to be an excellent source of on-line information and a great place to send people who want to learn more about Vaquita and the people’s needs in the northern Gulf.

3. Stay informed; stay involved
The other important role for cetacean fans is to be avid (even pesky!) consumers and purveyors of Vaquita information. Both the IUCN and the Society for Marine Mammalogy have repeatedly written letters to the Mexican government – but letters from other concerned citizens and organizations are needed to keep this issue on the front burner in Mexico. Vaquita needs an informed fan base to keep its status in the spotlight, to make clear that there is international interest in fate of this hapless porpoise, and that the eyes of the world are on Mexico over this issue. An inspirational example of citizen involvement is Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky, a 13-year old boy from Pennsylvania who has just written a book and maintains a blog https://vlogvaquita.com/ on Vaquita conservation!”

The Muskwa Club and I are very excited and grateful to see these new progressions (and the shout outs!), as well as all of the work the ACS has done in its legendary history. Please consider donating to them: http://acsonline.org/support-acs/donate-online/, as well as the ACSLA’s Vaquita switch-out fund by sending a check to P.O. Box 1208, San Pedro, CA 90733-1208. It is very important that you write “Vaquita” on the memo line for it to go to the switch-out.

Expedition summary

The 2013 Vaquita Expedition has drawn to a close. Though it was not exactly what everyone had been hoping for, there were some upsides to the expedition. Here is the email I received from Tom Jefferson on Friday:

“Greetings,
We have just returned from our 24-day Vaquita photographic expedition in San Felipe. The project had some bad luck and we were not able to get high-quality images of Vaquitas, as we had hoped. Here are some lowlights and highlights of the project:

Lowlights
1) The only Vaquita images obtained were very distant and blurry.
2) Of 22 potential days to work, nearly half (10) were too windy to even consider going out to sea. We had very little calm conditions (Beaufort 0-1), which is important for finding Vaquitas.
3) In one of our sightings that presented good photo prospects, three large trawlers moved through and scared the Vaquitas away just as we were attempting to get photos.
4) We did not observe any fishing with the new mini-trawl nets.

Highlights
1) We conducted 558 miles of searches for Vaquitas while traveling in two boats.
2) We conducted over 20 hours of intensive ‘stop and drift’ searches while sitting in the water with engines off.
3) We had 11 cetacean sightings (including several groups of long-beaked common dolphins, and large whales).
4) We observed three groups of Vaquitas at relatively close range.
5) We did not observe any illegal fishing with gillnets in the Vaquita Refuge.
6) We conducted a talk on the Vaquita for about 45 people at El Dorado Ranch.
7) We distributed educational brochures and coloring books to several businesses in town.

We are disappointed that we did not obtain any high-quality Vaquita images this year, but are not giving up. We are re-evaluating our approach for future expeditions.

Best wishes,
Tom
¡VIVA Vaquita!”

I was, of course, frustrated that the weather did not cooperate, and that once again the bad timing of large vessels scared away good photo subjects. It would have been incredible to get new Vaquita images to use for publicity, or at least witness the use of Vaquita-friendly fishing gear. Though it wasn’t an ideal mission, there are a few very important positives that we should focus on. First of all is the fact that they were able to go on the expedition in the first place. This means that they are getting the funding they need in order to successfully complete the endeavors they feel necessary to save the Vaquita. Going by the goals that I set in previous posts, the mission was technically a success in that they saw multiple groups of Vaquitas (more than in 2010!) as well as no illegal fishing. Firstly, this means that they are still alive and probably reproducing because when Vaquita are in groups it usually includes a mother and her calf, which would have been born in the spring, meaning Vaquitas were mating within the last few years and hopefully the summer of this year so calves are born next spring. Secondly, if there are no gillnets in the Vaquita Refuge, then the mortality rate of the species will be about zero, meaning any births will increase the population. I hope this expedition helped and will continue to help the spreading of awareness for the Vaquita, from the talk, to the brochures, to the coloring books. It would also be great if everyone reading this post shared their knowledge of the Vaquita on all their social networks and to all their friends. There is still hope for the Vaquita if we work together!

Expedition progress

Dr. Tom Jefferson just sent me some good news! Though the weather has not been ideal so far during the expedition, there has been a Vaquita sighting! Here is what he wrote:

“We have not had very good weather so far, but we did have one very calm day with a single Vaquita sighting very close to the boats. Three animals, but the photos did not turn out well.”

I was very excited to read this, and filled with hope that if the weather is calm for the next two weeks, they will get some really good Vaquita photos! Stay tuned.

Group size

A usual group of Vaquitas contains 1 to 3 individuals. Occasionally there is a larger group, containing up to 10 Vaquitas. But like many other cetaceans, multiple pods join on rare instances, creating superpods that can hold up to 40 individuals!