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!

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.

Even more good news!

Happy Friday! As if you need any cheering up on a Friday, I have even more good news to go along with the new 2-year gillnet ban.

After 40 years, the United States has finally made the decision to ban all seafood imports that are not marine-mammal safe. The ultimate form of a boycott, not only will this save hundreds of thousands of marine mammals from unnecessary death, it will encourage Mexican fishermen to switch to safe nets due to the increased demand of sustainable seafood by the US. Read the full article, http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/26080, below:

“In a landmark settlement reached yesterday, more than 650,000 whales, dolphins and other “bycatch” from fishing will be saved from accidental killing.

Despite US efforts to protect marine mammals in its own waters, we continue to import seafood from countries that don’t abide by our laws.

The lawsuit forces the US government to adopt long overdue policies that ban imports from those countries. All countries we import from will have to meet the same marine mammal protection standards required of US fishermen – a 40-year-old provision of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Fishing gear is the most significant threat to whale and dolphin populations worldwide. For example, Vaquita – the world’s smallest porpoise – is close to extinction because so many are caught in Mexico’s shrimp gillnets. There are only 97 left. Under the new policy, that shrimp would be barred from entering the US until fishing fleets meet standards that protect Vaquita.

Vaquita

“This law provides real, enforceable protections for marine mammals and sets up an even playing field that allows our fishermen to be competitive in the US market. If we’d had these standards 40 years ago, we wouldn’t be scrambling today to save the imperiled Vaquita. Thankfully, if this law is implemented, other species won’t share their fate,” says Zak Smith of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Americans eat 5 billion pounds of seafood each year, about 90% of which is imported and half, wild-caught.

The settlement in the US Court of International Trade is on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and Natural Resources Defense Council. The US government has until 2016 to develop standards that imports must meet.

It’s supported by an executive order on oceans from President Obama last year, which takes aim at rampant seafood fraud and the global black market fish trade. He directed federal agencies to develop a comprehensive program that deters illegal fishing and prevents illegally caught fish from entering the US marketplace (20-32% of all wild-caught seafood!).

Global Fishing Watch will be there to help by exposing illegal practices and creating a deterrent to breaking the law.”

This new law will tie in very nicely with all of VIVA Vaquita and the Muskwa Club’s plans during the new 2-year ban. All of these new developments, if well-implemented, might have come just in time to save the Vaquita.

If we can save the Vaquita through sustainable fishing, we are showing the world that we can coexist with animals without one or the other suffering. Also, it will be an example of what can be done to save a species, inspiring other conservationists to not give up. So what I’m saying is, not only does it matter for the Vaquita itself, but saving this species will have timeless global implications.

Greenpeace’s petition was a big part of this new ban, garnering over 320,000(!) signatures, each one sending a letter directly to the President of Mexico. But they made an important point:

“There are some missing measures that must be included for this [2-year ban] to be fully effective. The most important is to strengthen surveillance and enforcement. Illegal gillnetting in the Vaquita habitat is common and must be eliminated. We’re also urging the Mexican government to make this a permanent ban on gillnet fishing.

By the end of this month the proposal will have passed through consultation and be ready for a final draft. This doesn’t mean the campaign is over, as there may be more campaigning needed… there’s a big difference between what’s written on paper and what happens on the water.”

It is wonderful to have such a big powerhouse organization like Greenpeace fighting for the Vaquita.

Each day I get more confident that we really will save this species.

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

 

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!

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

Vaquita gift ideas

With the holidays right around the corner, now’s the time to start buying gifts for your loved ones. Money is tight these days, so gifts where some the proceeds go to a good cause is a great deal. Luckily for you, there are many such gifts that are related to the Vaquita! Let’s take a look.

The CEDO Eco Shop is a wonderful place to buy awesome gifts for the holiday season. From Vaquita t-shirts to booklets, to even a special link to Amazon that gives a portion of any purchase to CEDO, they have it all.

CEDO works extensively with the Vaquita, so it is one of the best charities to donate to.

Another wonderful holiday gift for that special someone would be CEDO wine, complete with one of six creatures of the Gulf on the label (of course including the Vaquita). And a portion of the proceeds goes to CEDO!

http://www.benefitwines.com/CEDO-Intercultural_c_1826.html

The VIVA Vaquita La Tienda has some wonderful Vaquita-specific items, with a new collection by Memuco: http://www.printfection.com/vivavaquita/NEW–memuco-vaquita-items/_s_583346

A perfect gift is the Adopt-a-Vaquita kit from Save the Whales. For $25 you get:

  • An 8 x 10 glossy color photograph of a Vaquita in the wild
  • Adopt-a-Vaquita certificate personalized to your specifications
  • 4 page color newsletter about Vaquita
  • A letter to the United Nations for your signature
  • Save The Whales window sticker
  • VIVA Vaquita window sticker
  • A Vaquita dog tag necklace (suitable for all ages and both sexes)

With the second edition of the world’s only Vaquita book coming in the near future, you might want to keep it in mind: https://www.createspace.com/4268018

And my final suggestion is a Save the Vaquita! t-shirt from the Muskwa Club’s campaign, with 100% of the proceeds going to this non-profit. Remember, if 34 t-shirts are not bought, none will not be printed. So please, support a great cause and look stylish while you do it: https://www.booster.com/savethevaquita97