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Sea Shepherd Discovers Dead Vaquita Caught in Gillnet

The vaquita, one of the last specimens of the most endangered marine mammal in the world, was trapped in a net inside the Vaquita Refuge attesting that illegal gillnets are the biggest threat to the tiny cetacean.

San Felipe, Mexico – March 14, 2019 – On the morning of March 12th, 2019 Sea Shepherd ships M/V Farley Mowat and M/V Sharpie were on routine patrol in the Vaquita Refuge searching for illegal gillnets when they found a target.  At that moment, net removal was not a possibility due to sea and weather conditions.

As per usual procedure, the Sea Shepherd crew recorded the location and returned to remove the illegal fishing gear when sea state allowed.  The crew of Sea Shepherd’s M/V Farley Mowat started removing the illegal gillnet at 3 pm.  Wildlife was trapped in the net, and as the crew was pulling it in they found an unidentified white animal. Some assumed it to be a totoaba fish.

The totoaba fish is the target species for the illegal gillnets that threaten the vaquita porpoise with imminent extinction.  The two animals are of a very similar size, endemic to the Upper Gulf of California, and critically endangered.  Their size and habitat likeness make the gillnets set to catch the totoaba the perfect death trap for the last vaquitas on earth.  Totoabas are being caught to supply a lucrative black market of their swim bladders, which are sold as “medicinal” soup in Asia.  The endangered fish is killed for less than 5% of its body.  The rest is then discarded and left to rot.

The unidentified animal was clearly dead, as the crew was reeling the net into the Sea Shepherd ship it fell off and into the ocean.  The Sea Shepherd drone was launched in an attempt to identify the species before it floated away.  The animal was too decomposed, and the fluke and head were missing, but crew believed it looked like a vaquita porpoise.  Captain Octavio Carranza then deployed the small boat team and Sea Shepherd scientist Laura Sánchez in a further effort to identify the animal.

“The state of decomposition of the body of the cetacean was too advanced for us to be able to identify it,” said scientist Laura Sánchez.  “The absence of the cranium further hampered the situation,” she finished.

After sending preliminary photographs to marine mammal experts and Sea Shepherd scientific advisers, it was determined that morphology and length matched the body of a vaquita porpoise.  Genetic analysis is needed to confirm the identity of species.

Sea Shepherd transported the possible vaquita corpse to San Felipe, where it was given to government authorities for identification.

Sea Shepherd is working in close cooperation with Mexican governmental agencies such as the Environmental Secretariat (SEMARNAT), Navy (SEMAR), Fisheries Department (CONAPESCA), Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA), and the National Commission of Protected Areas (CONANP) to ensure urgent measures are undertaken to protect the vaquita.

Recently there have been rumors spread in the Upper Gulf of California area that gillnets are not a threat to vaquitas and other cetaceans, inciting demands to the Mexican government.

Sea Shepherd has been present in the Upper Gulf of California since 2015 as part of Operation Milagro.  In that time, the crew has documented the entanglement of 36 marine mammals trapped in illegal gillnets. Nine of them were cetaceans, only one of which was able to be saved – a juvenile humpback whale in early 2016.

Although Sea Shepherd has found several dead vaquitas confirmed by scientists to have been killed from entanglement, this is the first time one has been discovered still trapped in a gillnet.

“If there were any reservations about totoaba gillnets being a great danger for vaquitas and other cetaceans, despite ample proof in the past, this event should definitely leave no room for doubt,” said Sea Shepherd Director of Marine Operations Locky Maclean.

Costa Rica Drops all Charges on Captain Paul Watson

Captain Watson Finally Gets Closure After Nearly Two Decades of Legal Disputes with Costa Rican Authorities.

San José, Costa Rica, March 12, 2019 –The Criminal Appeals Court of the Second Judicial Circuit of San José ruled in favor of Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, dropping all charges against him and giving closure to a 17-year legal dispute and 13-year-old international arrest warrant.

Sea Shepherd Demands that the United States Ban Seafood Imports from New Zealand Fisheries that Are Driving Māui Dolphins to Extinction

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Sea Shepherd New Zealand Ltd., and Sea Shepherd Legal (collectively, Sea Shepherd) refuse to allow New Zealand’s Māui dolphin to follow the same tragic path as the vaquita in Mexico.  Today, Sea Shepherd took decisive action to defend the Māui dolphin by formally demanding that the Trump Administration immediately ban all imports from New Zealand fisheries that are driving the Māui dolphin to extinction.

Sea Shepherd Welcomes the end of Whaling in the Southern Ocean

Sea Shepherd’s Statement on Japan’s Decision to Commercially Slaughter Whales.

credit Barbara Veiga Sea Shepherd_Paul Watson Nisshin Maru_1526
Photo Credit: Sea Shepherd & Barbara Veiga

Los Angeles, California – December 26th, 2018 – Since 2002, Sea Shepherd has opposed Japanese whaling operations in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary with expeditions to Antarctic waters first in 2002 followed by continuous campaigns from 2005 until 2017.

Tracking the Chinese Squid Fleet in the South Pacific – Part 2: A City on the High Seas

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Continued from Part 1: Voyage to the Galapagos.

As the Brigitte Bardot steamed west from the Galapagos we considered the sheer number of people we could expect to encounter when we reached this densely clustered fishing fleet 700 miles out to sea. The scale of fishing on the high seas has always been largely invisible to the seafood consuming public but our satellite tracking sources indicated an operation of truly remarkable size. From Automatic Identification System (AIS) data and radar we knew we were approaching a fleet of around 300 ships. These would be not only fishing vessels but a whole network of support vessels for refueling and transshipping catch from the fleet, as well as providing for an estimated 6,000 crewmen who would be at sea for several months at a time.

Sea Shepherd Releases Ground Breaking Footage of Madrid Dolphinarium

Operation 404, our captivity focused campaign, has been investigating dolphinariums around the world for the past year. Most recently, our undercover team captured ground-breaking footage while investigating Zoo Aquarium de Madrid.

Zoo Aquarium de Madrid currently owns 9 bottlenose dolphins, six were captured in the waters of Cuba and three were born in captivity. Reports show that 11 dolphins have died at Zoo Aquarium de Madrid since the 1980’s with the most recent death occurring in March of 2018.

While investigating, our team discovered that two of these dolphins appear to be ill. Lala and Guarina, both wild caught dolphins, are currently suffering from what appears to be skin lesions. We are very concerned for their well-being and cannot believe they are being forced to perform in these conditions.

Our team has sent footage to a professional veterinarian for further information regarding their health. Operation 404 will be posting the report once we receive the diagnosis.

Our volunteer teams are working globally to uncover the truth behind captivity. This footage is only the beginning. Operation 404 will continue to document and investigate alleged illegal activity in dolphinariums such as Zoo Aquarium de Madrid. If you support captivity, Sea Shepherd is coming for you.