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!

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!

Successful campaign

I would like to give a big thanks to everyone who bought a Vaquita t-shirt during the Muskwa Club’s campaign. All in all, we sold 47 shirts, raising $160.63 for the Muskwa Club. I hope everyone enjoys their t-shirts; I know I will! While we wait for them to ship, please keep your fingers crossed that the Mexican government’s upcoming Vaquita announcement will be a positive one!

T-shirt

Greenpeace

I just received an email from Greenpeace UK stating that their new Vaquita petition is the fastest-growing petition in Greenpeace history! They already have over 250,000 signers in 3 days, and it’s our job to keep that number shooting up. Please share this link to keep the heat on the Mexican government as they make their decision any day now about what their plans are for the Vaquita!

https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/protect-the-vaquita3

I am very pleased to say that Greenpeace is using one of my paintings for their social media outreach for this campaign!

10410698_10152646781538300_371668272648181126_n

I have noticed some misunderstandings about this picture. As I said when I posted this a while back, this is a digital painting/photo manipulation of a photograph of a captive harbor porpoise from the Netherlands. It has become by far my most popular artwork (it is near the top when you search ‘Vaquita’ on Google images), so I just wanted to clear up everything. I obviously did not intend to confuse anyone. Vaquitas cannot be kept in captivity for many reasons, so this kind of view of a Vaquita is impossible. I wanted to show what it would be like to see a real, alive Vaquita close up. And of course, I do not want to cause any problems for the original photographer.

But I am flattered that Greenpeace thought it was a real Vaquita. 😉

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

Bad news

I am deeply saddened by the news that there are likely less than 100 Vaquitas remaining on the planet, with under 25 of them being reproductive females. The International Vaquita Recovery Team, CIRVA, has just published the findings of their 5th meeting here: http://www.iucn-csg.org/index.php/2014/08/02/the-vaquita-new-report-from-cirva-released/, with more information coming soon from the Mexican Presidential Commission on Vaquita Conservation at this site: http://www.iucn-csg.org/.

The issue has quickly become a worldwide news story, being covered by the Washington Post (below) and ABC News among others.

The reason of their decline remains the same: accidental capture due to illegal gillnet fishing. But it now appears that there is a culprit more damaging than the shrimp fishery: Totoaba. A critically endangered species in its own right, Totoaba has been illegally hunted for years due to the incredibly high market value of their swim bladders. Particularly in China, these organs are a delicacy that can fetch over $10,000 per bladder. The temptation is simply too good to be true for the local fishermen, no matter how illegal it may be. As one of NOAA’s Vaquita experts Jay Barlow says, “With two days of fishing, you can buy a new pickup truck.”:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/china-bladder-trade-sending-porpoise-to-extinction/2014/08/01/3b317cf8-19ba-11e4-88f7-96ed767bb747_story.html

We all feel a little hopeless right now. It seems almost impossible to save the Vaquita. But I’m here to tell you that the fight is not over. Everybody has fought too hard for too long to give up now. These next few years could go down in history as the biggest success story in conservation history if we can turn things around. It is now in the hands of our governments, so we need to do something to get them to permanently remove gillnets from the Vaquita’s range. Hopefully there are some petitions in the works, so in the meantime, please use social media to our advantage. Spread the word in any way you can. It will be unexplainably devastating if we lose the Vaquita, so please, everybody, we need to work together and do something to save everyone’s favorite little Mexican porpoise. Check back here for the latest updates on the situation. Thank you.

 

 

Book signing recap

Here is the email I received from Beth Whittenbury (mother of William, Muskwa Club President) who so graciously helped me out by setting up and attending my “book signing” today:

“Hi Aidan:

Today went really well. They made two sales of your book, but I talked to about 20 people. I gave them all flyers with your blog address and also asked them to “like” the Muskwa video so that we can start to show the Mexican government how many people actually care about the Vaquita. You might want to ask friends and family to do the same as I do think it will make a big difference. Also, if you haven’t already subscribed to “TheMuskwaclub” YouTube channel, please do so that we can start streaming videos when we get to 100 subscribers. Everyone I talked to couldn’t believe a 13-year-old wrote and illustrated the book. They were also really impressed that you were donating back your proceeds to help save the Vaquita. Really good press for you! Also, I was wearing your “Save the Vaquita” shirt. 🙂

The event today was covered by both our local TV channel and our local paper. Your book should be prominently featured both ways over the next two weeks. So, overall, I would say it was a very successful day!”

The table that Mrs. Whittenbury manned to raise awareness for the Vaquita and my book.

The table that Mrs. Whittenbury manned to raise awareness for the Vaquita and my book.

I cannot thank Mrs. Whittenbury enough for all the help she has given me with the book, and I might not have even gotten it published in the first place if she didn’t refer me to CreateSpace.

Also, today my 9-year-old sister made the clay Vaquitas below. Please feel free to send me pictures of your Vaquita crafts at gl.tamarin123@gmail.com (especially your recipes) so I can post them on this blog. Thanks!

Clay Vaquita

Clay Vaquitas

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

WWF newsletter

Great news! Not only does the Official Norm help the Vaquita by what the regulation actually says, but also by the publicity the Vaquita is getting from it. This was proven this morning when the first story in WWF’s monthly newsletter was about the Vaquita! If you didn’t get it, here’s what it said:

“World’s Smallest Porpoise Gets a Helping Hand

Found only in a small area of the upper Gulf of California, Mexico, Vaquitas probably number fewer than 200. This little porpoise—the world’s smallest—often becomes entangled and drowns in drift gillnets used by fishermen to catch fish and shrimp. WWF has been working for many years to address the threat of bycatch to the Vaquita, and in February over 38,000 people signed our petition for a gillnet ban in the porpoise’s habitat. This month the Mexican government took a major step in protecting this critically endangered species.

Find out how the government is helping >> http://wwf.worldwildlife.org/site/R?i=i9Ccsfa6mHtShsdgXHYB4g

Share:

On Facebook – http://wwf.worldwildlife.org/site/R?i=O7cYS_tXH_tIRYP_37rueQ

On Twitter – http://wwf.worldwildlife.org/site/R?i=NboT5STNa4FLl02F6PkEiQ

More About the Vaquita and Its Habitat: – A rare and elusive porpoise http://wwf.worldwildlife.org/site/R?i=KWnlwOIOE7qrHhwIE4Fx7g

– Working to eliminate bycatch http://wwf.worldwildlife.org/site/R?i=B8fR_5cl2Ytv_yJu6T-ouA

– About the Gulf of California http://wwf.worldwildlife.org/site/R?i=i9dZaa8zog3ZsfIBFTMPHQ

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).