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!

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.

Marine Mammals of the World: A Comprehensive Guide to Their Indentification

A while ago I purchased Marine Mammals of the World: A Comprehensive Guide to Their Identification by Thomas A. Jefferson, Marc A. Webber, and Robert Pitman. It is an outstanding book, probably the best on Earth for Marine Mammals. It even has manatees and Polar Bears! Really the only reason I bought it (yes, I bought it, not my parents) was because of the Vaquita entry. It has great pictures and reliable information, and the best Vaquita illustration I’ve ever seen in a book. I’m not really asking you to buy it, but if you’re into marine mammals, it’s certainly worth every penny. It would also make a great holiday gift.

Tom Jefferson slideshow

Take a little while to go through this presentation/slide show by Tom Jefferson: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.404646446091.182152.164400421091&type=3. It is very informative, and talks about a lot of important issues.

Along with that, watch these two videos: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=vb.164400421091&type=2, also on the ¡Viva Vaquita! Facebook page. The one with the active Vaquitas is very heartening. If you haven’t already, check out the rest of the photos and the whole Facebook page when you get the chance. It makes me want to live in San Diego!:) Thanks.

TravelSharkPix Winners

TravelSharkPix announced the winners of their charity hunt yesterday, but unfortunately Save the Whales didn’t win. On the bright side, one of the winners was Oceana, a non-profit organization devoted to protecting the oceans and their creatures, including the Vaquita. Hopefully Oceana gets many donations from this event, and the Vaquita gains some more popularity. You can donate by getting a TravelSharkPix account, then uploading your pictures. For the first 100 accepted photos, they will donate 10 cents to either Oceana, The Cheetah Conservation Fund, or People in Crisis United. From the 101st submitter and beyond, they will donate 25 cents! Click here to learn more about TravelSharkPix. You can check out the Oceana site here:

http://oceana.org/en