Milagro II and more podcasts

After a very successful campaign earlier this year, Sea Shepherd’s Operation Milagro is back!

Operation Milagro II will start shortly and attempt to keep Sea Shepherd’s momentum going from the first Operation Milagro, where they captured the first Vaquita footage since 2013, patrolled the waters for illegal fishing, and formed a promising partnership with the Mexican government.

“During [Milagro II], which will span until April 2016, Sea Shepherd will partner with the government of Mexico to protect the waters of the Vaquita refuge, patrol for poachers, document issues facing the endangered cetacean, collect data in order to collaborate and to share with the scientific community, and conduct outreach in the region, meeting with marine biologists, researchers and other NGOs working locally to save the Vaquita.”

Click here to support the campaign (or here to buy a Milagro t-shirt)!

In addition to the episode in my previous post, here are some other great podcasts about the Vaquita:

Eyes on Conservation (Episodes 26, 28, 30, 42, 43, & 44)

Speak Up For Blue (Episodes 14, 38, & 40)

Elements (Episode 112)

Happy listening!

 

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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!

Miracle on the water!

Yesterday I posted that the Vaquita Expedition had just begun. Well, only 5 days in, and something incredible has already happened. Check out Dr. Barb Taylor’s message from only a few hours ago:

“So, the news will be out soon so I think I can let you Vaquita fans know. We saw 3 Vaquitas yesterday. Minister Pacchiano was due to come for an enforcement meeting in San Felipe and had a big visit orchestrated with the governor of Baja, the head of fisheries nationally (Mario Aguilar) and in Baja, a huge number of Navy brass, and the head of Profepa. Juan Carlos suggested that we go back to the spot we saw Vaquita yesterday to try to see them again. To make a long story short…we did (see 3 Vaquitas…Juan Carlos sighting) and I got the Minister on a pair of big eyes to see Vaquitas…and even Aguilar saw Vaquitas!

Just amazing! Those Vaquitas knew how important this was. They stayed in one place for about 20 minutes. They were still tiny triangles, but that just made the dignitaries all the more amazed that we found them.

I rode back in the super fast Navy boat with the governor of Baja in the co-pilot seat and pitched him the importance of making Baja a global example of solving the gillnet problem and working with California to develop markets to support Vaquita-friendly seafood. He basically translated that in the press conference that followed.

Needless to say…we’re all pretty excited. What are the odds?”

-Barb

I hope this remarkable and inspirational event is an indicator of things to come on this ever-important survey.

If similar advancements are made in the near future, this expedition may prove to be the most pivotal moment in the fight to save this little porpoise.

Viva Vaquita!

Maria Cleofas

 

2015 Expedition

The 2015 Vaquita survey and expedition has just begun! It will be a 70-day expedition hoping to photograph and get the most accurate population count of Vaquitas in years. It will also serve as a public awareness platform, with the best opportunity coming in the form of a special segment on the extremely popular CBS news show 60 Minutes. This survey will hopefully reignite the Mexican government’s interest in the conservation of this indescribably valuable species. It will also paint a clearer picture of what the situation is and what will need to be done. All in all, this expedition will be a fitting end to a very good year for the Vaquita, given the dire straits of the past few years. Our work has just begun, but nevertheless, it has begun. If you would like to donate to the expedition, please click below. Thank you so much.

https://www.gofundme.com/savethevaquita

Thanks

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!

And they’re off!

Today marks the beginning of Expedition Vaquita 2013! We wish you the best of luck ¡Viva Vaquita!

Let’s hope that they have a successful mission, including getting some good Vaquita photographs. If they start a blog during the expedition, I will post it here.

2013 shrimp season starts

On September 5, the Sonoran shrimp seasons commenced. The season generally begins in early September and ends in April, meaning you can shrimp during every month with the letter “r” in it. For the first ten days of the season, only artisanal panga fishermen, ribereños, are allowed to shrimp. But starting Sunday the 15th, the enormous trawling boats, cameroneros, are allowed to set sail. Both are of danger to the Vaquita unless they are outside of the Vaquita’s range and/or using Vaquita-safe trawls. This is an important time for Vaquita conservation because we will be able to see the Official Norm regulation hopefully be put into action. It would also be nice if all the fishermen follow the law and stay out of the Biosphere Reserve and Vaquita Refuge, but realistically, that’s not going to happen, at least not yet.

PROFEPA ships used for patrolling.  © 2008 Chris Johnson, earthOCEAN

PROFEPA boats used for patrolling.
© 2008 Chris Johnson, earthOCEAN

Hopefully PROFEPA (the part of the Mexican government in charge of patrolling the water for illegal fishing) will be out in large numbers trying to keep the reserves gillnet-free. That is another thing that will be very interesting to see during ¡Viva Vaquita!’s expedition starting the 23rd. Number one, if they see any fishermen, and if they do, what are they fishing with. I am not sure what they would do in that situation, and as cool as it would be for ¡Viva Vaquita! to go full-out Whale Wars on a tiny fishing boat using gillnets, I believe they would handle it very calmly and probably radio to PROFEPA, or something along those lines. The second thing that will be interesting to see will be if the ¡Viva Vaquita! team is spotted by PROFEPA, and if they are, will they be inspected for permits. Here is an excerpt from the blog of their 2010 expedition (hopefully they will have a blog this year too) about this very situation, which happened to be at the exact time they saw their only Vaquita during the entire 3-week trip:

“Captain Antonio sighted a Vaquita off the port-bow that surfaced twice and avoided the boat. We stopped to search, but at that same moment we were approached by the PROFEPA boat (Mexico’s environmental law enforcement agency) asking to see our permits. By the time the agents reviewed our paperwork, the Vaquita was gone. No one had been able to get any pictures. It was bad timing, but good to see the PROFEPA agents were doing their job.”

So my hopes for this year’s shrimping season is that no Vaquitas are killed by humans. This is definitely possible if the Official Norm is put into action and the fishermen follow the law. That way in the spring, when the calves are born, the Vaquita will finally begin its climb back from the brink of extinction.

For more information on this year’s shrimping season, read this article: http://sancarlos.tv/shrimp-season-commences-in-sonora/, and here is a great piece from Vaquita.tv about 2010’s shrimp season: http://vaquita.tv/blog/2010/09/17/big-expectations-for-the-2010-shrimp-season/.