2016: The Year of the Vaquita

Thunderclap Poster.JPG

We have just launched a Thunderclap campaign to raise awareness for the Vaquita! Our recurring theme throughout 2016 will be “The Year of the Vaquita” and that 2016 will be a “make or break” year for the species. We are trying to get to 500 supporters before March 4, and if we do, the message below will be shared around the world! Please show your support!

“The critically endangered Vaquita porpoise is the rarest marine mammal species on the planet. Between 50 and 100 remain, and all of them live in a tiny region in the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Their only threat is accidental entanglement in fishing nets called gillnets, which are illegally set for the also-endangered Totoaba fish. There is a lucrative black market trade in Asia for the swim bladders of the Totoaba, fueling this highly destructive fishery. The Vaquita is simply an accidental victim in this situation, but nevertheless, it is on the absolute brink of extinction.

2016 is a “make or break” year for the Vaquita. Which one would you prefer?

We are doing everything we can to reverse the Vaquita’s decline, from online awareness to in-person outreach. One of our biggest efforts has been International Save the Vaquita Day, which has taken place on the second Saturday of July since 2013. ISTVD is a worldwide celebration of the Vaquita and the people trying to save it, through tables, festivals, and much more. This year it is on July 9, and we are going to make the event bigger than ever! We will have tables all around the world, as well as a huge social media effort, all to create buzz and educate the public about this extremely urgent cause! In 2015 we convinced the Mexican government to ban all gillnet fishing in the Vaquita’s range, which is amazing news! Now this year, we are going to have to make sure they flawlessly enforce the ban as well as make it permanent with the aid of Vaquita-safe fishing gear!

2016 has to be the Year of the Vaquita, or else it will be too late to save this magnificent animal.”

https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/36220-2016-the-year-of-the-vaquita

Why are we doing this?

We spend a lot of time asking how to save the Vaquita.

However, asking why may be just as important.

To me, it has always been obvious. When any creature is in trouble, I want to help it; let alone when we are the reason behind its suffering. There are countless other amazing people who think this way, and because of them, the Vaquita is still swimming today.

But this morning I read a comment on a social media post about how exciting the recent Vaquita sightings are, and it went something like this:

“Thank God. Now, because of this, all the homeless have homes, the unemployed have jobs, and the beaten wives have boxing lessons. It’s so great that we’ve seen a bloody porpoise.”

I will not name this person, because, of course, everyone is entitle to their own opinions. I just found this comment very intriguing. I am sure this person is not alone in thinking this way about environmental issues, so I will delve into this a little.

I will start off by saying homelessness, poverty, and abuse are some of the most tragic realities of our world today. It is unfair that people have to spend the only life they have in such terrible situations. And because of how upsetting these things are to the general public, there are countless organizations dedicated to helping these sufferers and victims.

But just because there is something terrible happening, doesn’t mean that all other terrible situations should be forgotten about. There are enough people in this world to help both humans and nature.

And believe me, nature needs saving.

But why? What’s the big deal if an almost never-seen porpoise disappears? Here is an excerpt from my upcoming article (stay tuned for when it gets published) in the Journal of Marine Animals and Their Ecology:

“The extinction of the Vaquita would have major global impacts in a variety of ways. The effect on the local ecosystem would be seen very quickly because the Vaquita is an important species in the food web. If Mexico allows the Vaquita to go extinct, there would be numerous social and economical repercussions. In addition, every living organism is valuable; an entire species is even more so. We have the moral duty to save a species when we are the reason they are endangered. Finally, the outcome of the Vaquita’s situation will affect conservationists all over the world. If the Vaquita goes extinct, it will send the message that we don’t have the will to save endangered species, and it will happen again and again. However, if we do save the Vaquita, it will inspire conservationists to work harder to save other species in similar situations. The Vaquita needs to be saved for the Vaquita, its ecosystem, other endangered species, and for us.”

The philosophy that humans are the only species that matters has put our planet into a downward spiral for the past few hundred years. We haven’t really felt the effects of this spiral yet, but very soon, we are going to experience the repercussions of our collective neglect for this planet’s resources and for other species.

However, it is not too late to reverse some of the damages we have made. One of the best opportunities to do so in dramatic fashion is to save the Vaquita.

So when three Vaquitas are seen by decision-making Mexican dignitaries at the beginning of an extremely important survey, just when hope is fading, there is reason to celebrate. That is why we are glad to see a bloody porpoise.

Here is a photo gallery of the expedition so far, and it gives an idea of how important it really is:

Expedition gallery

SEMARNAT Press Conference

Most recently, the illegal Totoaba trade has been focused in Hong Kong, as discovered by Greenpeace. Please sign their petition to end this trade, which as you may know, is the primary cause for Vaquita bycatch:

Greenpeace Hong Kong Petition

And lastly, Mexican-American non-profit organization World’s Aquarium has created a campaign to fund their program to help monitor the illegal fishing in the Gulf. Non-governmental participation is a necessary effort in this fight. Please donate if you can; there are no better causes:

Marina Vaquita Observer Program

Let’s save this bloody porpoise! 😉

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Let’s make this V-day one for the Vaquita!

Valentine's Day Vaquita

If you missed it when it was live, please watch Dr. Anna Hall’s Vaquita lecture here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLqkbkJ_fJs.

It is definitely a must-watch with some wonderful information and insight from a world-renowned porpoise expert.

Some ways you can help the Vaquita on V-day are buying my Vaquita book, writing a letter to the Mexican government showing your appreciation for their actions, donating to CEDO or VIVA Vaquita, sharing a Vaquita post on social media, or making a sustainable seafood dish. It all makes a difference.

With love from the Vaquita.

The 97 Effect

meme

We live in a technological world. Smartphones run in our blood, and social media in our minds. Nowadays you can’t walk around without seeing someone posting a picture on Instagram or Tweeting about their brunch. Because this is what I have grown up with, it seems completely normal to me. But for many adults, this stuff must be equally intriguing, confusing, and infuriating. But love it or hate it, one thing is undeniable…

The internet is taking over.

And without the immense reach and power of social media, literally everything I do relating to the Vaquita would be impossible.

I learned about the Vaquita online, as I’m sure 99% of the people that know about the Vaquita did. I then got into contact with some Vaquita experts through email. Then, in 2011, I started this website, albeit with low expectations. Since then, countless opportunities have come up for me because of this blog, the best example being the Muskwa Club finding me. And social networks are even more effective.

I check Facebook and Twitter every day, and I am increasingly amazed by the impact the Vaquita is causing. Literally millions of people are learning about and being touched by the Vaquita’s story every day, especially recently. It’s almost like every day is a Vaquita Tweetstorm.

Every major news outlet has covered the Vaquita’s predicament, and it really is beginning to get in the pop culture limelight. It’s a shame it took there being only 97 (possibly only 88 now) Vaquitas left for this kind of attention to occur, but better late than never, right? The number 97 seems to really speak to people, which I am coining ‘the 97 Effect.’ And I am confident that all this recent exposure and outcry towards the Mexican government is what pressured them into creating the new ban (see previous post).

Here are just a few examples of the Vaquita’s newfound fame:

Clipping

Above is an example of news sources’ recent interest in the Vaquita. Maybe the number 97 has some magical qualities?

iFunny

Here is a screenshot from the Featured section of the extremely popular app, iFunny, featuring Save the Whales’ photo of a Vaquita model in a net. Notice how many likes and comments it already has (it was quite entertaining reading some of the 7,096 replies)!

QuizUp

I was very excited to see my favorite app, QuizUp, have a trivia question about the one and only Vaquita in the Aquatic Life topic! (I think I know the answer). 😉

WWF Together

This screenshot is from the iPad app WWF Together, which is quite the immersive spectacle. This free app really makes you feel like you are in another world, both visually and sonically. If you have an iPad, this one is a no-brainer.

So thanks to the 97 Effect, the Vaquita is skyrocketing into fame. Using this exposure as a springboard, let’s make 2015 the best year yet for the Vaquita! A great start is donating to VIVA Vaquita (link in the top of the right sidebar, click on the baby Vaquita being carried). Thank you.

© Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky

© Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky

 

The rundown

I’m sure many of you who are reading this don’t really know what’s going on in the Vaquita world. And unless you are in VIVA Vaquita, I don’t really expect you to.

So here’s the rundown:

We all were crossing our fingers on Thanksgiving in hopes of the Mexican government’s Vaquita announcement being good news. In typical fashion, the announcement came over a week late. And it wasn’t really a public announcement. In summary, the announcement was that in San Felipe and El Golfo de Santa Clara (not Puerto Peñasco) shrimp (not corvina) gillnetting and longline fishing will be banned for a year, while compensating for the fishermen’s losses. At first, this sounds like good news, a strong start with a lot of potential success. Well, there’s one kicker they didn’t mention: it’s optional.

When I found this out, I felt like the world was collapsing. In terms of gillnet fishing, anything that’s optional means they aren’t going to do it. It’s just a plain fact. Even when it isn’t optional they still illegally fish. On December 5th, in the Vaquita Refuge, what is thought of as one of the few remaining safe havens for the Vaquita, 90 boats, many of which had gillnets were photographed in an aerial survey. 90. And that’s just in the Refuge.

Copyright © Joe Dlugo

Copyright © Joe Dlugo

So, it seemed to us at VIVA Vaquita that the Mexican government wasn’t taking CIRVA’s recommendations for a complete ban seriously. And after much, MUCH consideration and taking account for all variables and outcomes, here is the official statement from VIVA Vaquita:

 

URGENT ANNOUNCEMENT-

VAQUITA NEARING EXTINCTION!

 

In July 2014, at the 5th Meeting of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), it was estimated that the Vaquita population had decreased to only 97 individuals, and the rate of decline had accelerated to an estimated 18.5% annually (CIRVA 2014). Recent evidence indicates that about 28 Vaquitas (29% of the current population) were killed in gillnets in the 2013/2014 period (Urrutia-Osorio et al. 2014). Despite CIRVA’s strong and urgent call for an immediate ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, as a critical measure to avoid the species going extinct in the next couple of years, the Mexican Government has not implemented any such ban. The shrimp gillnet fishery continues legally, and there is now rampant illegal fishing with gillnets inside the Vaquita Refuge. This is in addition to the illegal gillnet fishery for Totoaba, itself an endemic and endangered species, which has apparently expanded, and is now fueling the drastic decline in Vaquita numbers.

The Vaquita population most likely now numbers less than 90 individuals (perhaps much less), and is rapidly heading toward extinction, with a probable point of no return in the next year. Valuable time has been lost during the 2014 shrimp gillnet fishing season, with the Mexican Government delaying action, and vaquita numbers declining further.

In light of this, ¡VIVA Vaquita! is calling on the Mexican Government to immediately implement and enforce a two-year ban on all gillnets in the Vaquita’s range, as recommended by CIRVA. We ask all consumers to purchase and support only those Mexican seafood products (i.e., fish and shrimp) that have been caught with methods other than gillnets (methods such as trawls, longlines, or hook & line gear). Check product packaging for place of origin and ask your seafood servers/vendors to serve ONLY non-gillnet caught items. A two-year ban will buy time for the Vaquita, and allow for the full conversion of fisheries to more sustainable gear. Support for fishermen who are willing to use alternative gear (i.e., less damaging than gillnets) is essential for the survival of the vaquita, as well as other marine life in the Gulf of California.

References:

CIRVA (International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita). 2014. Report of the 5th Meeting of the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita. Ensenada, Baja California, México, 8-10 July 2014, Unpublished Report, 38pp.

Urrutia-Osorio, M. F., A. M. Jaramillo-Legorreta and O. S. Osa-Nishizaki. 2014. Analysis of the artisanal fisheries’ fishing effort dynamics in San Felipe as a bycatch modeling tool for the vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Presentation at American Cetacean Society’s 14th International Conference, 7-9 November 2014, Newport Beach, CA.

We encourage you to avoid buying any seafood products from Mexico, unless you are positive they are from Vaquita-safe sources. This can only work if it spreads through social media like wildfire.

The Muskwa Club has also formed an extremely well thought-out five-part plan that we will begin implementing immediately.

The plan contains the following five parts:

1. Educate consumers in China and Chinese restaurants in America about the negative effects of the Totoaba trade for the Vaquita and the fish itself.

2. Design an efficient, cheap, and Vaquita-safe trawl net that will be given to fishermen as a replacement for gillnets.

3. Continue educating the public about the Vaquita’s plight, including International Save the Vaquita Day.

4. Reach out to celebrities due to their ability to raise funds for the ban and the safe nets, as well as begin a public outcry in favor of the Vaquita

5. Keep everyone’s spirits up in the Vaquita community. It is not too late for the species, unless we don’t work together or stay positive.

We will do everything in our power to make these five steps come true, but there is only so much a group of teenagers can do.

None of this will be possible without your generous support. We ask you to please donate to VIVA Vaquita, as now is a more important time than ever: http://www.vivavaquita.org/donations.html

VIVA Vaquita’s site has undergone a major makeover, which will be published any day now.

Another extremely helpful step you can take is to sign and share our Vaquita petitions, the newest being an urgent letter to the Mexican president and others: https://www.change.org/p/enrique-pe%C3%B1a-nieto-stop-the-extinction-of-the-vaquita-porpoise.

I am pleased to say the word is really getting out about the Vaquita. Nearly all of my relatives have called me saying they saw the Vaquita in the news, and my aunt even sent me this newspaper clipping:

Clipping

And any time you need any motivation to help the Vaquita, just take a look at this picture:

Vaquita Andrew Wright

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

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.