2014

2014, quite a year.

I’m sure this year was crazy for everyone in some way.

From the loss of Robin Williams to the Ebola outbreak, we have had a lot on our minds this year. However, many people had something new on their minds in 2014: the Vaquita.

This year was action-packed for our little hero. International Save the Vaquita Day was a smash hit, and everything was looking up with last year’s Official Norm law in mind. But this summer, we all took a blow to the gut: a new study showed only 97 Vaquitas remained.

It’s over then, right? 97? That’s too low to recover from. Especially if the government doesn’t make any changes. Well, they did change, but not for the better. They announced recently that they were NOT implementing a mandatory ban on gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, which is their only chance for survival. Not one person was able to stay completely optimistic at this point, and for good reason. It was basically over. Despedida, Vaquita.

But then, on the 25th, in what can only be described as a Christmas miracle, the unthinkable happened. The Mexican government announced a $37 million plan for a two-year ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, giving Muskwa enough time to perfect the Vaquita-safe nets as well as develop a long-term plan. Not only will the fishermen be paid to not fish, they can be paid to monitor the water for illegal fishing, therefore, in effect, converting the fishermen into “poaching rangers.”

This is the exact development that Vaquita conservationists have been suggesting for years. Now that this law will be in action, it is truly crunch time for us. Muskwa will be perfecting a cheaper and more effective Vaquita-safe net to distribute to the fishermen after the ban is over, as well as carrying out five other plans. All of us in the field of Vaquita conservation will be hard at work making the most of this valuable opportunity given to us by the Mexican government.

V-log had its best year in 2014, with over 9,300 views. And I was amazed to see the number of different countries that viewed my blog: 97. Sound familiar?

https://vlogvaquita.com/2014/annual-report/

Here’s to a much better 2015 for the Vaquita, because without that, there isn’t much hope for the species.

¡Viva Vaquita!

Animal welfare vs. Conservation

Please take a few minutes to read this intriguing piece by Andrew Wright, from Southern Fried Science:

“The ever-logical Spock once said “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Then he didn’t. Then he did again. (Thanks J. J. Abrams.)

But I digress.

Regardless of which Spock you are listening to, the logic is still sound. For example, most people would agree that it is sometimes necessary to put a few people in harm’s way to protect the entire population of a nation. Likewise, a system that taxes a few of the world’s wealthiest to help out the masses is generally accepted as a good idea.

The logic also holds when it comes to helping endangered species survive and recover. Decision-makers essentially try to maximize the returns of their investments, making sure that the greatest number of animals are protected for the all-too-limited funds available to take on the task at hand.

So when the world went crazy over the death of Marius the giraffe in February of this year, many conservation biologists found themselves in a state of disbelief.

Of course, the vast majority of those in the business of conservation will freely admit that the welfare of animals in zoos and aquaria is important. They are in our care and we have an ethical obligation to look after them and make sure they remain healthy and happy. And this is especially true in the case of endangered species.

So what is the problem?

Well, the trouble is that conservation of wild animals is woefully underfunded.

Let us look at a case in point. In August a new report was released stating that the worlds’ smallest cetacean (a group that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises), the Vaquita, was down to just 97 animals and would likely to go extinct in the next four years. Crucially, all the necessary laws are in place; the solution is better enforcement and retraining of fishermen. And all this needs is money. And probably less than a movie star can make on a single movie.

On an environmental scale this is both tragic and a surprisingly easy fix. But, while a reasonable number of news agencies have covered the story, and continue to do so, the level of public outrage since that time can be best described as non-existent.

In another case, Suni, a 34-year-old male northern white rhino in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a wildlife conservancy in Kenya, died last week, leaving only six left in the world – all in captive facilities. The future of the species is now extremely bleak as Suni was one of the last two breeding males. And yet no-one seems to have noticed.

And therein lays the problem. We, as a society, cry foul over the perceived unethical treatment of animals that solidly inhabit our world, but apparently care little for those that live on the fringes. Consider that the western black rhino was officially declared extinct at the end of 2013, with very little fanfare, while the staff of Copenhagen Zoo received death threats over one giraffe from a healthy subspecies. The very existence of the Vaquita and both the northern white and Javan rhinos currently hang in the balance, while many other animals, including two other subspecies of giraffe, are also listed by the IUCN as endangered. But there is no shouting and screaming.

Meanwhile, public outcry caused huge amounts of money to be offered up to buy Marius and ship him off to another location. In a previous case, ridiculous sums of money were invested in the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reintroduce Keiko (of Free Willy fame) back into the wild (although he did enjoy a probably extended retirement in a Norwegian sea pen).

One reason often given for this is that people identify with animals with names. Accordingly, the money spent on such individuals simply wouldn’t be available for conservation otherwise, as people would not have offered it up. However, the lack of response to Suni’s death seems to contradict this. As do two other recent examples, Satao, the largest elephant in the world, and another huge tusker, Mountain Bull, that were both killed by poachers in late May of this year. These magnificent and important animals had names, but despite some media coverage the outpouring of outrage simply did not materialize. So perhaps it is simply that people can only identify with those animals they can see for themselves.

It is right that we protect the rights of animals in our care. But we must also remember that all wild animals are likewise at the mercy of human actions. We kill them for a handful of trinkets. We tear down their homes. We pollute their food and water. But the overwhelming majority of animals suffering in such ways find no spontaneous offers of new homes; no funds being set up for their welfare and security; no celebrities tweeting about how horrible their treatment is.

Animal rights are an ethical issue. It is an issue that should receive our attention. But if animals do indeed have rights, then don’t we have an ethical obligation to uphold the welfare and safety of all animals?”

We absolutely do. We need the world to care about the little Vaquita. And frankly, almost nobody even knows about them. With celebrities being the people we all look up to the most, having one (or more) as an ambassador for the Vaquita would be a big deal. So please, while we in the Vaquita conservation world work towards this goal, you can as well.

Social media is quite the powerful tool…

Silver linings

There’s no other way to put it. The Vaquita is in a terrible situation.

There are fewer than 100 remaining, and they all live in a relatively miniscule area. They have consistently declined for as long as we have known about the species, and it could be getting even worse. There is a lot of conflict among governments and NGO’s in terms of who wants to help the Vaquita and who doesn’t. However,

“A certain darkness is needed to see the stars.”

We must look at the silver linings of the very dark storm cloud that is the Vaquita’s situation.

The Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his committees are being extremely helpful, which is obviously a huge step. There are many confidential progressions being made in the “Vaquita Headquarters,” many of which are positive.

Conservation group LightHawk will be “flying monthly aerial surveys over the northern Gulf of California” this year to monitor the fishing activities in the Gulf, both legal and illegal. This kind of surveillance is a major part of enforcing the new laws to protect the Vaquita: http://www.planeandpilotmag.com/products/whats-new/lighthawk-flies-to-help-save-endangered-porpoise.html

Some more great news is that the Colorado River has finally reunited with the Gulf of California. What this means for the Vaquita, it’s hard to say. But let’s just admire some great restoration work: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/05/19/a-sacred-reunion-the-colorado-river-returns-to-the-sea/

Another example of great Vaquita conservation is the San Diego Zoo: http://blogs.sandiegozoo.org/2014/10/31/helping-vaquita-porpoises/

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, famous for their dolphin Winter (the subject of both Dolphin Tale movies), has started a major campaign to save the Vaquita: http://www.seewinter.com/get-involved/winters-hope-vaquita

Two more petitions that we would really appreciate you to sign are:

https://secure.oceanconservancy.org/site/Advocacy;jsessionid=8399D1166361249BAC174C8F19764608.app260b?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=846&s_src=14WAXAXXXX&s_subsrc=14AVQE

http://www.change.org/p/prevent-the-extinction-of-the-vaquita-porpoise-the-world-s-most-endangered-marine-mammal

I have a second edition of my book in the works, so keep an eye out for that in the near future…

Finally, many of you remember the Vaquita Blanket Challenge. It was a challenge (much like the ALS Ice Bucket one) where we encouraged participants to get wrapped up in two blankets and try to escape in under 97 seconds (the number of Vaquitas left). Though there were some wonderful participants, many people either didn’t have the time to film themselves doing this or simply were embarrassed. Therefore, the t-shirt campaign for people who had taken the challenge did not thrive by any means. In light of this, I have created a new t-shirt campaign that isn’t related to the challenge. Please check it out, and hopefully purchase one for yourself or a loved one (it makes the perfect Christmas gift for that animal lover in your life). Our goal is 50 shirts, but I believe we can surpass that. 100% of profits go to the Muskwa Club, Inc., now an official non-profit organization, and you can even make an additional donation directly to them. The campaign runs the entire month of November, so you will receive the shirts by Christmas.

Thank you!

https://www.booster.com/savethevaquita97

T-shirt

Time for action

97. There are 97 Vaquitas left on this planet. For every Vaquita on earth, there are 82 million people.

To date, nothing that has been done to save them has worked. It is a harsh reality for all of us in the field of Vaquita conservation, and now there is the threat of Totoaba fishing for the Asian black market, which we didn’t think was occurring in substantial amounts anymore.

A big change is necessary if we plan on saving this species. We have been incredibly diplomatic with the fishermen, but obviously it has not been working. We need help from very important people, and we will certainly try our hardest to make that happen. Please read this message from ¡VIVA Vaquita!: http://www.vivavaquita.org/VV_Emergency2014.html.

¡VIVA Vaquita! is requesting that the Mexican Government do everything in its power (and make full use of assistance offered from other countries, such as the United States) to eliminate all gillnet fishing in the Vaquita’s range in the next two months. If this does not happen, we will immediately begin campaigning for a boycott of ALL Mexican seafood products, until such time that the ban is considered to be in effect.

Right now, the most important thing that the general public can do is sign and share this new petition from the Ocean Conservancy:

http://act.oceanconservancy.org/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=41469&em_id=30824.0

 

Graphic © Joe Dlugo

Graphic © Joe Dlugo

It is vital that everyone shares the Vaquita’s predicament on social media before it is too late. If you have not already, “like” ¡VIVA Vaquita! on Facebook for important updates.

A good example of social media helping a cause is “Changing Hearts, Minds, and Lives.” They are a Facebook group (of which I am a member of) that uses social media to spread the word about important environmental issues, such as the Vaquita.

Countless major news companies have been attracted to the Vaquita’s story, but unfortunately, it’s because of how close to extinction it is. Hopefully this new level of recognition can have a positive impact on the species.

If you live near the Point Vicente Interpretive Center in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, then please attend their book signing on Saturday, November 8th, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. Beth Whittenbury will be representing my book there, so please pay her a visit and buy my book! Thanks so much Mrs. Whittenbury!

Lauri Hamilton has submitted a video for National Geographic’s Expedition Granted program for a chance at a $50,000 grant to go out and film Vaquitas. Please vote for her on September 16 if she is one of the finalists! She used one of my drawings for the video, which I am very thankful for. Here is the link: http://expeditiongranted.nationalgeographic.com/project/the-vaquita-project/.

If we all work together to save the Vaquita, it really does have a chance…

Now is the time for action.

#SaveTheVaquita Tweetstorm!

Have you ever heard of a Tweetstorm? “A Tweet-what?” you may say. Well, let me enlighten you. A Tweetstorm is a concerted effort on Twitter to get as many people as possible to all tweet the same hashtag during a small time frame in order to give that hashtag extreme popularity, landing it on the ‘Trending Topics’ chart.

The Muskwa Club and I are organizing a Tweetstorm for #SaveTheVaquita on New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2014 from 5:00 pm to 11:59 pm Pacific Time (8:00 pm to 2:59 am ET). During this time, we would like for everyone to tweet about the critically endangered Vaquita using the hashtag #SaveTheVaquita. Also, you can include some eco-conscious celebrities in the tweets, like the incredible @LeoDiCaprio or my favorite singer Moby (@thelittleidiot) so they catch all of this Vaquita buzz.

A Tweetstorm is similar to a petition, but interactive and with more immediate results and potentially a much wider audience. A great example is the Tweetstorm for #SOSMauisDolphins, which garnered almost 12,000 tweets, landing at number 5 on the ‘Trending Topics’ chart, ahead of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. If we only get a fraction of the tweets that they did, ours can still be considered a success. My goal is 1,000 tweets, but goals are meant to be exceeded.

“Ugh, this social media stuff isn’t for me,” you could be saying right about now. Even if you are a firm believer that social media is only for teenagers and balk at the thought of yourself tweeting, the least you could do is email the flyer below to your friends. But to all you tech-savvy people out there (basically everyone that is reading this), please participate. I would not be nagging about this so much if I didn’t think it was one of the best ways to help the Vaquita. So mark it on your calendars, check out this countdown a few times to remind you, share the flyer increasingly frequently, and get your tweeting muscles ready! If you have been on the border between getting a Twitter account or not, please get one, even if you delete it after the Storm. Thanks so much from the Vaquita!

And don’t forget to follow me (sidebar under ‘Stay Connected’)!

Vaquita Tweetstorm

Reflecting on experience

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
John Dewey

Lately I have been thinking a lot about saving the Vaquita…I mean really saving the Vaquita, not just blurting out words and ideas without even fully processing what we are saying. Saving a species has become such a widely used term that we sometimes forget to dig all the way down to the roots of the problem. As the quote above by American philosopher John Dewey states, we need to reflect on our experiences to learn something. In this case, our experiences would be conservation success and failure stories. I decided to look for patterns in the successful species recoveries, as well as in the ones that were not so lucky, to determine what can and should really be done to save the Vaquita.

This article (please read it now) was perfect for this type of research. It is a list of the “top 10 conservation successes and failures,” from 2006. The date does not really matter here, because information about something that happened in, say, 2000 will not change between 2006 and 2013, similar to a history textbook. Here are the successes from the list:

Reforestation of China
The American Bison
Southern White Rhino
Wildlife Reserves Cover 10% of the Earth’s Land
Golden Lion Tamarin Monkey

So what do all of these success stories have in common? The answer is we actually did something. We tried. Scientists started captive breeding programs. Conservationists created protected areas. We made sure we protected the species with every last ounce of energy we could. A captive breeding program unfortunately could not work for the Vaquita because they don’t survive in captivity, and even if they did, they would be virtually impossible to capture in the first place. And don’t even get me started on the whole SeaWorld issue (I am getting Blackfish for Christmas). Our main goal to help the Vaquita should be to really try, and I don’t just mean conservationists. Everyone, fishermen, public figures, governments, and the citizens of the world need to band together to save a species that cannot save itself. We already have multiple protected areas for the Vaquita, which is a great start, but as I’ve said many times before, the areas do not completely cover the porpoise’s full range. And enforcement on these protected areas is not as strong as it needs to be, which is hopefully changing. Fortunately, animals with smaller populations and more dangerous habitats than the Vaquita have come back from the brink of extinction, so it is still not too late.

Now let’s look at the failures to learn what to avoid in our mission to save the Vaquita:

Destruction of the Amazonian Rainforest
Saiga Antelope
Northern White Rhino
Worldwide Amphibian Declines
Orangutan

So what did we do differently? As you might expect, the exact opposite of what we did in the successes: absolutely nothing. As with basically every endangered species on the planet, these animals are being destroyed by us humans, much like the Vaquita is. Yet we did not take the responsibility of helping our innocent victims. Many of these failures are due to a lack of understanding or control over the threat. Luckily, the Vaquita is in a perfect habitat with only one problem: accidental entanglement in gillnets. Bycatch is a much easier-to-deal-with threat than poaching or trapping because it isn’t even intentional, and climate change because it is a direct threat. With the right teamwork, the Vaquita can definitely be saved.

So in recap, we learned that we can save the Vaquita by, well, saving it. We mustn’t sit around and hope it survives.

We need to take action now, before the Vaquita itself becomes an experience to reflect upon.

I’ve gone Social!

A while back I wrote a post on the importance of social media to help the Vaquita. You can read it here: https://vlogvaquita.com/2013/04/04/social-media/. Social media is an extremely important tool for us in the battle against the Vaquita’s extinction, as it is the only way to easily spread information across the globe in seconds. So if you are such a big proponent of social media, why don’t you have it yourself? you might ask. And the answer is, “I have no clue.” So now it’s time to put that all to rest. I have created two social media accounts, on Google Plus+ and on Twitter. I will be posting all of my future posts from V-log on Twitter, and very important posts and extras on Google Plus+, so if you follow me on both as well as here on WordPress, you should be able to stay constantly connected to the Vaquita world! Also, please follow ¡Viva Vaquita! on Facebook and Twitter. Click the buttons below (they are also in the sidebar) to begin our journey together!

Follow me on Google Plus+

Vaquita model

I’ve had the idea of a Vaquita app for a while now. It would be a spectacular way to get the word out, not to mention the financial benefit for the Vaquita. WWF is a great example of conservation through apps, with Rhino Raid and WWF Together. My app would be something along the lines of you playing as a Vaquita who has to dodge gillnets to get to a goal, such as its family or a school of fish. Between levels, there would be little blurbs of information on the Vaquita, such as why it is endangered and how you can help, as well as a button on the home page to directly donate. The hardest part of creating the app would be the animation of the Vaquita. It could be a cartoon Vaquita, but I would prefer it to be quite realistic. I have been browsing through deviantART a lot in the last few days, and was inspired by all of the realistic animal models, some even moving with muscles and skeletons! I did a little research on 3D software, and discovered the free program Blender. I am starting to figure out how to use its endless features, and I created a basic Vaquita model. My hopes are to learn a lot more about animation and modeling, and eventually try to make the app. Below is my Vaquita which I will be using as the basis for the app’s animations. If you are or know anyone that you think can help with this project, please let me know at gl.tamarin123@gmail.com.

Wireframe Vaquita

Solid Vaquita

Solid Front Vaquita

Vaquita Model

Vaquita art

I don’t think there is a better way to share an idea than through visual art. Something about an image evokes a feeling that cannot be accessed any other way. Getting out the message to save the Vaquita has proven to be quite difficult, especially through writing. So now I will be starting to draw a lot more Vaquita pictures and make as many Vaquita crafts as I can. I really hope all you artists out there will help me on my mission to spread the word. I have recently set up an account on the amazing site deviantART: http://goldenliontamarin.deviantart.com/, where I have posted and will continue to post my Vaquita artwork. I strongly encourage everyone to make some sort of Vaquita art and email it to me at gl.tamarin123@gmail.com. Get your kids to make something too! Sometimes a child’s drawing makes even more of an impact than an adult’s. I have started off the endeavor with a Vaquita word cloud.

What will you do?

Vaquita Word Cloud

Increasing awareness

Today I finished reading the North American Conservation Action Plan (NACAP) for the Vaquita. You can read it online here: http://www.cec.org/Storage/62/5476_Vaquita-NACAP.pdf (the English section starts on page 48).

It is a very in-depth paper from 2008 with extremely important and relevant information. It reaches a similar conclusion to many other papers in that the fishermen are willing to help the Vaquita as long as they do not lose their income for it and their families can still be sustained. Basically the entire world wants to help the Vaquita, including the fishermen, so really all that needs to be done is our governments work together to complete all of the goals required to save it before time runs out.

I was particularly interested in the matrix provided on pages 76-79 that charts all of the priorities for saving the Vaquita, as of 2007, according to the CEC. Many of the things listed have already been done, which is promising. Below is the section for increasing awareness, with the first box containing the action, the second showing the priority (more ! = more important), and the third showing the time frame. I am really excited to try to help make these things happen, and I am sure the Muskwa Club will play a crucial role in these endeavors. All of these things are past their due date, but that does not mean they shouldn’t be done. Earlier in the paper it states, “The [conservation] sector also stressed the value of having information flow smoothly among the various sectors [fishing, aquaculture, tourism, and conservation] so that problems can be identified and solutions sought in a timely, efficient manner.” This idea is extremely similar to the Muskwa Club’s idea of the Vaquita Preservation Alliance, which I will write about once the details are figured out after the Muskwa Club – American Cetacean Society Los Angeles meeting on October 25.

(Click the chart if the words are too small.)

Increasing awareness