SAN FELIPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA MEXICO – From April 11 to 14, 2016, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s patrol vessel the M/Y Farley Mowat was honored to host Drs. Barbara Taylor and Jay Barlow, two vaquita experts from the Society for Marine Mammology. The scientists used the latest data from a network of buoys that listen for vaquita echolocation clicks to chart a course through the vaquita refuge to create the best opportunity to spot the elusive, critically endangered marine mammals.
Equipped with binoculars and an abundance of patience, the two marine biologists positioned themselves on the fly bridge of the M/Y Farley Mowat and scanned the horizon for hours each day. M/Y Farley Mowat crew members joined in these vaquita patrols. At 8:40 AM on April 12, 2016, less than three hours into the first full day of searching, Drs. Taylor and Barlow spotted a vaquita. As per their instructions, the M/Y Farley Mowat was turned in the direction of the sighting and put into neutral. Vaquitas are usually spotted alone or in pairs, but the presence of one can mean that others are within binocular sight as well. Just a few hours later, at 11:30 AM on April 12, 2016, a second vaquita was spotted. The scientists hoped to spot a mother and calf, but it was another solitary vaquita.
“Every time I see a live vaquita it buoys my hope for the species. Seeing them so close to where Sea Shepherd and the Mexican Navy have been pulling illegal nets makes the critical need for this guardianship obvious,” said vaquita expert Dr. Barbara Taylor. On April 13, 2016, in the southern part of the vaquita refuge, Drs. Taylor and Barlow spotted the third vaquita of their trip on the Sea Shepherd ship.
“It was great to find three live vaquitas so soon after three others were killed in gillnet,” commented Dr. Jay Barlow. “It was, however, worrying that all our sightings were so close to areas of active, illegal fishing.”
These recent vaquita sightings from the Farley Mowat make for a total of four encounters with the endangered porpoise on Sea Shepherd ships since April 2015. Captain Woody Henderson, captain of the M/Y Farley Mowat, commented, “It was inspiring having Drs. Taylor and Barlow on board with us and it was wonderful to learn more of the scientific community’s efforts to protect the vaquita. The whole crew felt a renewed sense of energy after having these vaquita experts share their knowledge and sightings of three live vaquitas.”
On May 9, 2016, an international group of scientists with the Comite Internacional para la Recuperacion de la Vaquita (CIRVA) will release a new estimate of the vaquita population after taking into account the latest acoustic and visual observations carried out by scientists on severalweek surveys. The last time CIRVA released an estimate was in 2014 and they concluded that only 97 individuals remained.
Operation Milagro II is Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s ongoing campaign to protect the vaquita porpoise from extinction. Patrolling and removing illegal nets with the authorization of the Mexican Government and working in cooperation with the Mexican Navy, the R/V Martin Sheen and M/Y Farley Mowat have saved whales, rays, and fish, all while protecting the vaquita and its habitat. Since January 2016, Sea Shepherd has removed 40 illegal gillnets and 13 illegal longlines from the Gulf of California.
Operation Milagro II
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