Critically Endangered Turtle Rescue on Earth Day

Sea Shepherd crew saves the life of an adult leatherback turtle entangled in illegal gillnet in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico – a Federally Protected and UNESCO listed Area.

SAN FELIPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA MEXICO – April 22th, 2018 Earth Day – 1:41 pm PST, while patrolling the Vaquita Refuge, Sea Shepherd Vessel M/V Farley Mowat came upon an illegal gillnet. Sea Shepherd Crew members were conducting gillnet retrieval operations when an unfamiliar mass appeared entangled within the net. Upon inspection, it was determined to be a very large leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), still showing signs of life.

Sea Shepherd has two ships stationed in the Upper Gulf of California as part of Operation Milagro IV, a campaign to save the most endangered marine mammal in the world – the vaquita porpoise. Vaquitas and other animals such as this leatherback turtle get entangled in gillnets set to catch another critically endangered sea creature, the totoaba fish. The totoaba is targeted for its swim bladder, which is sold for up to USD 20,000 dollars per bladder in Asian black markets for alleged medicinal purposes.

Poachers sink their illegal totoaba nets in an attempt to deter Sea Shepherd and the Mexican Authorities to locate and remove them, making it impossible for surface-breathing animals to survive for very long once they become entangled.

Sea Shepherd jumped into action once discovering the turtle was still alive. As Sea Shepherd biologists carefully approached the vulnerable animal, they identified it as a critically endangered female East Pacific Leatherback. The turtle was startled at first and dove deep for a few minutes. Upon resurfacing the turtle remained calm long enough for the crew to cut the net wrapped around its neck and carapace.

“The turtle was very strong and active. After we freed its neck and body, it managed to free itself from the rest of the net around one of the flippers.” said campaign leader and biologist Patricia Gandolfo. Adding “The turtle must have just got entangled, as its body didn’t show marks of struggling in the net which are very common in most animals we find in this dire situation.”.

The leatherback was estimated to measure 1,45 meters (4.7 feet) and to be about 20 years old.

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest turtles on Earth. These reptiles have been around for 100 million years, they shared the earth with dinosaurs, but their future is uncertain. Just over the past 3 generations 97% of the East Pacific Leatherback subspecies has been wiped out. According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) fisheries bycatch is still considered the major obstacle to population recovery. Another issue these turtles face is the plastics in the oceans, since they subsist almost entirely on jellyfish, they often mistake plastic bags, balloons and other plastics for their food.

“Every day is Earth Day for us fighting for the survival of the oceans. We are here to protect two critically endangered species, the vaquita and the totoaba, but we have already come across other critically endangered species falling victim to illegal fishing, such as this leatherback and endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks.” Said M/V Farley Mowat’s captain Thomas Le Coz. “This is an example of what illegal fishing operations are doing to life at sea, we need to act now and we need to act every single day.” He completed.

Working with Mexican authorities, to date Sea Shepherd has removed 748 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the Sea of Cortez since starting its effort to protect the vaquita porpoise in 2015, saving 2926 animals in the process. That accounts for over 100 kilometers (62 miles) of nets removed, which is the distance from earth to outer space and the height of seven Everest mountains. Sea Shepherd works with members of its partner network to ensure these illegal nets will be recycled responsibly and never find their way back into the ocean.

Shots Fired at Sea Shepherd’s M/V Sharpie

On the night of April 10th, 2018, shots were fired at Sea Shepherd’s M/V Sharpie

31 27.31 N 114 45.63 W

At 7:46 pm on the night of April 10th, while retrieving an illegal gillnet approximately 8 nautical miles off the Baja Coast near San Felipe, BCS, shots were fired at the Sea Shepherd vessel M/V SHARPIE from a fast-approaching skiff. The M/V Sharpie was stationary at the time while the crew worked on deck. Piracy Protocols were initiated and the crew lay flat on deck.

At this time, Mexican Federal Police Officers posted on board the Sea Shepherd vessel returned 3 shots to deter the approaching skiff.

At 7:53 pm, the Fast Naval Patrol vessel in the area was informed and in less than 10 minutes was underway to support the M/V Sharpie. Net retrieval operations were stopped and the crew mustered below deck in the mess room. At 8:05 pm a second skiff closed in on the M/V Sharpie at high speed. The M/V Sharpie proceeded south towards San Felipe and arrived at San Felipe Harbour at 11:10pm to process 13 totoabas recovered from illegal nets that had been left on deck during the melee.

Sea Shepherd would like to thank the Mexican Navy and the Mexican Federal Police for their prompt and professional action to maintain order in the Upper Gulf of California.

Sea Shepherd is currently conducting Operation Milagro IV, an anti-poaching and illegal net retrieval campaign in the Upper Sea of Cortez to protect the Vaquita Marina and Totoaba Bass, in partnership with the Government of Mexico.

Sea Shepherd carries five armed law enforcement agents on board its vessels to ensure safety and order while patrolling the waters of the Upper Gulf of California Vaquita Refuge, a Federally Protected and UNESCO listed Area.

Sea Shepherd Saves 25 Critically Endangered Totoabas at the Height of Spawning Season

Conservationists intercept and remove illegal gillnet minutes before recovery by poachers, saving entire school of totoaba bass from black market trade.

SAN FELIPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA MEXICO – March 26th, 2018 –  At 7:45 pm PST Sea Shepherd vessel M/V SHARPIE came upon an illegal gillnet within the Vaquita Refuge in the Northern Sea of Cortez, Mexico. The gillnet was entangled in a longline. As the ship’s crew began to separate the illegal fishing gear, they noticed live totoaba bass in the net, embarking on an unprecedented rescue operation.

Is Closure of BC Central Coast Roe Fishery a Red Herring? #SayNotoROE

MARCH 4th 2018
COMMENTARY BY CAPTAIN LOCKY MACLEAN
SEA SHEPHERD MARINE OPERATIONS AND CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
Hornby Island, Strait of Georgia, BC, CANADA locky@seashepherd.org

The herring stocks of West Coast Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, and Prince Rupert have already collapsed. The Federal Government’s recent closure of the Central Coast area, an already wiped out herring fishery, only takes attention away from the slaughter taking place right now in the Strait of Georgia.

Sea Shepherd Concludes Research Expedition on Elusive Cuvier’s Beaked Whales

Mexican scientists on board R/V Martin Sheen recorded whale encounters and added to photo ID catalogue during Divina Guadalupe III

Sea Shepherd recently wrapped its fall research project, Divina Guadalupe III, to study Cuvier’s beaked whales at Mexico’s Guadalupe Island, recording 22 encounters and increasing their photo-ID catalogue to 69 different individuals.

Sea Shepherd Vessel Makes History by Becoming First Ship Registered as a Marine Conservation Yacht

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s newest vessel, the M/V Sharpie, has become the first ship in history to obtain registry as a private marine conservation yacht by Dominica Maritime Registry.

Sea Shepherd founder, president, and CEO Captain Paul Watson and director of ship operations and campaigns, Captain Locky MacLean, along with Dominica Senator for Tourism and Urban Renewal, the Honourable Robert Tonge, and Discover Dominica Authority’s Production Promotions Manager Kathy Cuffy Jno-Jules, were present at the dedication ceremony aboard the Sharpie at the 5th Street Marina in Miami on Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

Sea Shepherd and Under the Skin Team Up for ‘Extinction Series’ Art Prints

Sea Shepherd is teaming up with UK-based design duo Ed and James Harrison on their conservation project ‘Under the Skin,’ an art series specializing in limited-edition, interactive screen prints of endangered animals from across the globe.

This new collaboration will celebrate some of the marine species that Sea Shepherd is tirelessly working to protect, as well as raise awareness of the threats these species face that are leading to their extinction.