New Vaquita photos!

On October 22, two Vaquitas were photographed at close range, marking the first good photographs of the 2015 Vaquita Expedition, and some of the best ever of the species, for that matter!

Check out some of the photos (by Todd Pusser):

Vaquita-marina-2

Vaquita-marina-3

Everyone is extremely excited about this sighting (and the approximately 25 other Vaquitas seen so far during this expedition!), as well as relieved to have new photos for future conservation efforts. President Enrique Peña Nieto is one of these excited individuals! He tweeted reports and photos of the sightings, and also stated that the efforts to save this species rage on, detailing the extensive recovery plan once again in a press release today! The U.S. government has also announced their partnership with Mexico and both of their commitments to saving the Vaquita and eliminating the illegal Totoaba trade in China.

Weather conditions during the expedition have been favorable for the most part (despite the devastating Hurricane Patricia that hit much further south in Mexico), allowing for many sightings, including many of female (cow) Vaquitas with their calves that were presumably born this spring. This is tremendous news, as it means that Vaquitas are still finding ways to reproduce, and therefore can recover if the population isn’t being threatened by gillnets. This expedition has only been going on for a month, and it has already resulted in over 25 sightings, great photographs, and best of all, a renewed hope among the conservation community that the Vaquita can not only be saved, but that all the pieces are already in place to make it actually happen.

Viva Vaquita!

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Miracle

“What a country chooses to save is what a country chooses to say about itself.”
—Mollie Beattie

The last few weeks have been nothing short of a miracle.

First came the official start of the ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s entire range on April 10, which supposedly goes into effect today, Tuesday, April 28. This was proposed on Christmas, and was considered to possibly be the best Vaquita conservation news ever. However, there were some doubts as to how serious this ban was. Mexico could have easily just been saying what conservationists wanted to hear with no intentions of enacting the ban, let alone enforcing it. This fear was hardened by the continual postponement of the start of the ban. But finally, in April the ban was officially announced to begin on the 10th, with payments being made before the 28th (tomorrow), when enforcements will start.

But then the news started getting really good.

On April 16 Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto made the trip to San Felipe to inaugurate the new ban. He gave a passionate speech at the large celebration dedicated to the newfound hope for the Vaquita. This was an unprecedented event that went a long way in showing how committed the Mexican government is going to be to this ban.

Here is an article (click the link for a video) by Sandra Dibble about the ceremony and Mexico’s new plans:

‘With the small and rarely seen Vaquita porpoise verging on extinction, Mexico’s federal government is launching an unprecedented effort to save the species — through measures that include a dramatically expanded ban on gillnet fishing in the Upper Gulf of California over the next two years.

President Enrique Peña Nieto on Thursday traveled to this quiet Baja California fishing port to formally launch the new plan to save this small sea mammal endemic to the region. With fewer than 100 Vaquita now believed alive, scientists say the species is likely to disappear unless drastic measures are taken immediately.

With this latest plan to preserve the Vaquita, Mexico is “reaffirming the government’s commitment to the preservation of our environment,” Peña Nieto told a gathering of several hundred that included conservationists, the country’s naval and defense secretaries, as well as the governors of Sinaloa, Nayarit and Baja California.

The smallest and most endangered of the world’s 128 cetaceans, the Vaquita can grow to four or five feet long and weigh up to 120 pounds. Among its characteristics are dark rings around the eyes and dark patches on its lips. First identified in 1958, the Vaquita lives in the turbid waters of the Upper Gulf of California, where its population has declined sharply.

According to Armando Jaramillo, a marine biologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, the numbers have gone from 567 in an initial survey in 1997 to fewer than 100 today.

The announced extinction of the freshwater Baiji dolphin from China’s Yangtze River in 2006 has added urgency to conservationists’ calls.

The Vaquita “is a species emblematic of Mexico,” said Omar Vidal, director of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico. “It’s like the Panda for China, not more, not less.”

Efforts to save the Vaquita have involved much cross-border collaboration, and present at Thursday’s event was Anthony Wayne, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, as well as representatives of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.

The threat to the Vaquita “is a symptom of a broken system,” said Alejandro Robles, chairman of the Mexican environmental group Noroeste Sustentable. “The Upper Gulf has tremendously valuable resources. It has been the historical disorganization of the fishing sector that has created what we have today.”

Cooperation from the fishing community will be key to saving the Vaquita, Robles and other conservationists say. But in recent years, their efforts have met with stiff resistance from local fishermen, many of whom see their livelihood threatened by the gillnet ban and are skeptical of the Vaquita’s existence.

“There are fishermen who have lived their entire lives without seeing this animal,” said Carlos Avila, a 39-year-old fisherman and San Felipe native. “If we haven’t seen it, how are we going to preserve it?”

Peña Nieto’s announcement follows a scientific report last year by [CIRVA], the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, a group of experts appointed by the Mexican government. The report identified as the main threat to the Vaquita the drift gillnets favored by Avila and hundreds of other small fishermen in the region who make their living through their catch of shrimp and fish. The Vaquita become entangled in the nets and drown.

The report listed another growing threat in recent years: lucrative illegal fisheries in the Upper Gulf for another endangered species, the giant Totoaba fish. Tototaba are highly prized in China, where they are believed to have medicinal properties, and can command more than $10,000 per kilo, according to Mexican officials.

Thursday’s ceremony carried a message of increased federal enforcement in the region, which included a heavy presence of Mexican naval personnel and the presentation of Defender-class boats capable of traveling close to 70 miles per hour.

“Enforcement is absolutely critical,” said Barbara Taylor, a conservation biologist with the Southwest Fisheries science center. “It is going to be the critical thing on whether you save the species or not.”

The new measures are not the first by Mexico to preserve the Vaquita, but they go further than previous efforts. These include the prohibition of gill net fishing over an area of close to 1,150 square miles — about six times the size of a Vaquita refuge declared in 2005 where all fishing continues to be banned. The expanded zone covers the entire area where Vaquita have been sighted.

Another step involves the two-year compensation program — payments totaling close to $36 million annually — for fishermen who are forced to give up their gillnets and long hooks, as well as others in the local production chain.

Mexico’s federal government calculates that the compensation program for fishermen in San Felipe and another coastal community, El Golfo de Santa Clara, involves 806 small boats, or pangas, with 1,354 fishing permits (most have two permits). For the next two years, fishermen would receive about 7,000 pesos, or about $460 per month to stay away from their gillnets and long hooks.

“I have never seen the Mexican government put so much money into one species,” said Vidal of the World Wildlife Fund.

Sunshine Rodriguez, who heads the largest fishing federation in San Felipe, was once a staunch opponent of the gill net fishing ban. But he has endorsed the government’s latest plan.

“We don’t want to kill the oceans either,” he said. “We are certain that if there is another way of fishing and they come up with it, we’re going to use it.”

Still, Rodriguez and other fishermen have been resistant to alternative fishing methods being championed by the Mexican government and the conservation community, a light trawl known as a chango ecologico that does not threaten the Vaquita, saying that it uses more gasoline and brings in a smaller catch than the gillnets.

Robles of Noroeste Sustentable said the next two years will buy time for the region, but “to me the big question is what happens after two years; how we define sustainability in the Upper Gulf in the context of the Vaquita and the Totoaba, and also the needs of the community.”’

There have already been multiple Totoaba busts this month. First, two men were chased by police and dropped a backpack containing 90 swim bladders, and more recently, a man and woman were stopped with a large Totoaba on their boat. It is great to already see the enforcement in action, whether or not it is because of the new ban. The Mexican Navy has been given high-velocity Defender speedboats in order to effectively enforce the ban. The boats are capable of incredible speeds even while heavily armed, and it is apparent that they are in the right hands, given that there has already been a bust with one.

Recently, there have been dozens of articles about the latest developments, along with celebration among the conservation community. For the next few weeks, it is best for us citizens to give Mexico some time to see how serious they really are about everything, but while we are waiting, we can work on ending the illegal Totoaba trade. The root of all illegal trading is demand; if we can reduce the demand, there will be no reason to fish for Totoaba. You can spread the word about the situation, talk to your local Chinese food restaurant, and if you or someone you know visits/lives in China, talk to everyone you can and ask them to not buy Totoaba swim bladders or fish maw soup.

Sea Shepherd, an organization made famous by the hit show Whale Wars, has a new mission: Operation Milagro, which means miracle. They have been in the Sea of Cortez for a month, and are dedicated to doing all they can to save the Vaquita.

“We have called this campaign ‘Operation Milagro’ because, taking into account the staggeringly small number of Vaquitas left, sadly it would be nothing short of a miracle to see one swimming in the sea today,” said Captain Oona Layolle.

Well believe it or not, on the very next day, for the first time since 2013, Operation Milagro did just that.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
—Margaret Mead

 

The last stand

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
― Robert F. Kennedy

I want to be a Vaquita scientist when I grow up, not a conservationist. I don’t want to live in constant fear of the day that the Vaquita goes extinct. I want to go out on a boat and do research while admiring a mother and calf happily swimming.

And I certainly want to have Vaquitas to study.

These all require the Vaquita to not go extinct. In a way, me trying to help the Vaquita now (as a kid) is ensuring that my dreams of the future will come true. In essence, the Vaquita is my bank account; I am depositing money now (helping the Vaquita) so I can have a lot more in the future (study the now-abundant Vaquita).

I am sure there are many other people like me who wish to save the Vaquita, for various reasons. But the point is, we can’t realize this dream without all of us working together.

This is literally the final chance to save the Vaquita. They are right at the population size that has always been considered past the point of recovery. Without a voice like us, the Vaquita is doomed. This is our last stand.

“A last stand is a general military situation in which a body of troops holds a defensive position in the face of overwhelming odds. The defensive force usually takes very heavy casualties or is completely destroyed, as happened at Thermopylae, or Custer’s Last Stand. Bryan Perrett suggests that although the majority of last stands throughout history have seen the defending force overwhelmed, on rare occasions the outnumbered defenders succeed in their desperate endeavors and live to fight another day, and he lists the Battle of Rorke’s Drift as one such engagement.”

Last stand

This has an eerie resemblance to our situation. But we need to replicate the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, not Thermopylae or Custer’s Last Stand. It will take a little luck, but we will have no chance unless we put forth our best effort.

To read more about what is happening, click this link: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/zsmith/this_week_in_whales_focus_ngos.html

And here is the letter that was sent to the Mexican President: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/zsmith/Letter%20to%20President%20Pe%C3%B1a%20Nieto%20FINAL.pdf

The Mexican government is scheduled to make their announcement about their official plans to save the Vaquita TOMORROW, so while you are feasting with your family or watching football, keep the little porpoises in the back of your mind, and maybe even shoot them a prayer.

A new way for you to help is through Greenpeace’s new campaign by sending a personal letter of your own to the Mexican president: https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/speakout/save-the-vaquita?js=false

Please like VIVA Vaquita on Facebook for constant updates and links, and stay tuned to V-log to get the latest Vaquita info.

Finally, we have reached the minimum number of shirts sold in Muswka’s campaign, so everyone is guaranteed to receive their shirts! If you haven’t already, please purchase a limited edition Vaquita shirt for yourself or a loved one just in time for the holidays. There is less than a week left, but we are only 13 away from our goal! Please help us surpass our goal, because all funds go to the Muskwa Club, a leading Vaquita conservation group that is on the cutting edge of porpoise conservation and awareness. The only thing holding back Muskwa from succeeding in all of its many projects is funding, so buying this shirt really could save the Vaquita.

And it’s pretty stylish.

http://www.booster.com/savethevaquita97

Let’s do this!

As I am sure you know by now if you have read some of my previous posts, Mexico made a new law (called the Official Norm) that requires all shrimp gillnets to be switched out with Vaquita-safe trawls within the next 3 years. This is obviously enormous news, so even some of the major groups wrote articles about it, among them the WWF, the organization whose petition caused the law to be created in the first place.

However, few to no articles talk about what happens next.

This law is only affecting shrimp gillnets, because they are the only ones who have a Vaquita-safe substitute so far. Finfishing gillnets pose just as big, if not bigger, of a threat to the Vaquita, so they obviously need to be replaced as well. Currently, there are Vaquita-safe finfishing trawls being developed and tested, so hopefully they prove effective and can be implemented in the Gulf as well within the next couple of years, before it is too late.

The other part of the puzzle with this law is the cooperation of the fishermen and the commitment of the government. We are all hoping that the government really does follow through with this plan and succeeds, and from what I can tell, they mean business with this law. They really do want to save the Vaquita, and I believe they will as long as one factor falls into place: the fishermen.

In the end, it is all up to the fishermen. No matter how strict the government gets, the fishermen will be able to slip through their grasp and fish illegally. That is, if the fishermen would rather risk it all just to fish with gillnets. The law plans to train each fishermen on how to use the trawls and compensate them, meaning there is no real loss for the fishermen that participate in this mandatory law. The trawls are a lot more expensive than gillnets, so the government is going to need to use a lot of their tax dollars to make it happen. If you are a Gulf fishermen, please do the right thing and follow the law. Participate in the Official Norm, and tell every other fishermen to do the same. If you live in Mexico, know that every item you buy with tax could be helping save one of your national icons.

You. Yes, you sitting there reading this post. I want you to help this law succeed too. First off, DO NOT BUY FISH OR SHRIMP FROM THE GULF OF CALIFORNIA CAUGHT WITH GILLNETS! If there is no business, there will be no reason to fish. The next thing to do is sign my new and improved petition to the Mexican president, SEMARNAT, and PROFEPA, which asks them to do the things I wrote about in this post:

http://www.change.org/petitions/save-the-elusive-vaquita

Thank you so much for your help! If you would like to learn everything you can about the Vaquita while also donating to the species, please buy the first ever Vaquita book, written by me, here: https://www.createspace.com/4268018.

Together, we can save the Vaquita. Let’s do this!

Official Norm

About a week ago, the Mexican government took an enormous step in saving the Vaquita. The government has created something called the “Official Norm,” a regulation that plans on completely switching out all gillnets with Vaquita-safe trawls in the next 3 years. They hope to switch out 30% this year, 30% next year, and 40% in the third year. This giant step was taken due to the over 38,000 signatures on WWF’s petition to Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican president. Read WWF’s article about this landmark announcement: http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?208988%2FMexico-approves-measure-to-save-worlds-rarest-marine-mammal.

To donate to the switch-out through the American Cetacean Society Los Angeles Chapter’s new switch-out charity, send a check by mail 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.

If you would like to help make the Official Norm successful, please copy, paste, and send this resolution created by the Muskwa Club to any member of the U.S. government that you can:

________________________________________________________________

A Resolution to Support Mexico in its Effort to Prevent the Extinction of the Vaquita.

WHEREAS, The Vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal, with less than 200 individuals remaining, and is heavily threatened by incidental gillnet bycatch; and

WHEREAS, The Vaquita is likely to become extinct within the next several years; and

WHEREAS, It would not be acceptable for extinction of an intelligent and unique species to occur; and

WHEREAS, The government of Mexico has adopted an Official Norm to replace all shrimp gillnets within the Vaquita’s range with sustainable fishing gear within the next three years;

RESOLVED, That the Congress here assembled commends the government of Mexico for its step to save the Vaquita and strongly encourages the government thereof to successfully complete the program within the allotted time; and, be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the government of the United States highly recommends that the government of Mexico develop sustainable finfishing gear as a further guarantor of the Vaquita’s survival.

Introduced for Congressional Debate by (will be filled in shortly).

Spanish WWF petition

Here is another petition by WWF Mexico to the Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto (again, if you have his email, please give it to me for my petition). The page is entirely in Spanish, so here are what the words mean in the petition box:

www.panda.org/vaquita/

(____) ya han firmado. Ayúdanos a conseguir 50,000: (____) have already signed. Help us get 50,000

País: Country

Nombre: First Name

Apellido: Last Name

Email: Email

Código Postal: Zip code

Quiero recibir noticias y actualizaciones: I want to receive news and updates

Firmar Petición: Sign Petition

If you want to read the petition before signing (it’s basically the same as the other one), just copy and paste into Google Translate. I find it very fun to search the web for new Vaquita info and pictures. Check out these two cool Facebook pages: https://www.facebook.com/SanFelipePescadosYMariscos and https://www.facebook.com/WWF.Mexico. I find myself learning Spanish very rapidly with all these websites. ¡Qué tenga un buen día!

WWF petition

Please visit https://support.worldwildlife.org/site/Advocacy?pagename=homepage&cmd=display&page=ActionAlertTakenPage&id=681 to sign a petition to Mexico’s new president Enrique Peña Nieto to help the Vaquita. The petition is by WWF, so I don’t know if you need an account to sign it (I don’t think so, but I have an account so I signed). I have been looking for President Nieto’s email address all over for my petition, but can’t seem to find it. If anyone knows his email, please leave it in the comments so I can update my petition immediately! Thank you.