Sea Shepherd Works With Legal Fishermen to Protect the Vaquita

EN ESPANOL

Sea Shepherd does not believe in punishing legal fishermen for the wrongdoings of poachers.

San Felipe July 28th, 2018 – On Thursday, July 26th, an international trade court judge ordered the Trump administration to ban all seafood harvested with gill nets in Mexico’s northern Gulf of California. The effort was spearheaded by a group of U.S. organizations and has been presented across Mexican and U.S. media outlets with photographs of Sea Shepherd ships and crew, not related to the ban.

Sea Shepherd has no involvement with this seafood ban, nor does the organization endorse it in any way. Sea Shepherd has never been part of a coalition to request the United States government for an embargo on Mexican seafood imports. Furthermore, Sea Shepherd is working in partnership with Mexican authorities to protect the vaquita porpoise.

Sea Shepherd’s founder, Captain Paul Watson, stated, “Sea Shepherd suffered no hostilities from fishermen for our continued conservation efforts in the Sea of Cortez until February 2017. That was the month when some 50 U.S. groups called for a boycott of Mexican shrimp. In retaliation, since Sea Shepherd is the only visible NGO physically operating in the area, the fishermen burned a skiff with the name “Sea Shepherd” on it and threatened to assault our crew and burn our ships.”

Since then, Sea Shepherd has had drones shot down and Molotov cocktails thrown at the organization’s vessels. Poachers have also shot directly at a Sea Shepherd ship, The M/V Sharpie, forcing Mexican Federal Enforcement Agents embedded on board to return fire, fortunately with no injuries on either side.

Captain Watson continued, “News outlets are using images copyrighted to Sea Shepherd as well as images of the organization’s ships operating in the area while announcing this ban. Sea Shepherd urges this practice to stop as we do not countersign this ban.”

Last Friday, a group of legal fishermen approached one of Sea Shepherd’s vessels stationed in Mexico, waving a newspaper with the headline “TRUMP IMPONE EMBARGO PESQUERO A MÉXICO! (Trump Imposes Seafood Embargo on Mexico!) to demand an explanation from the Sea Shepherd crew.  The newspaper had used a Sea Shepherd copyrighted image of one of the Society’s former US Coast Guard cutters that operates in the area in partnership with the Government of Mexico to illustrate the article announcing the seafood ban.

Sea Shepherd is actively working with the local authorities and communities in the Upper Gulf of California to protect the vaquita and does not agree with punishing legal fishermen – who are already under severe socio-economic pressure due to domestic bans on fishing in the area – for the actions of poachers.

The organization continues to work with legal fishermen to remove and recycle illegal fishing gear. “We believe in working with legal fishermen, not against them. The last thing they need is for foreigners to further oppress them into poverty. This will only discourage the local community from protecting the last remaining vaquitas.” said Captain Paul Watson.

Sea Shepherd understands the good will of the U.S. organizations trying to help the vaquita, but believes this effort is ill-advised due to the stress that vaquita conservation is already imposing on the local community. “We strongly encourage U.S. conservation groups to join Sea Shepherd´s critically important and direct work in the Vaquita Refuge.” said Captain Paul Watson.

With less than 30 vaquitas remaining, the need to continue this important work to protect the species is indisputable. Sea Shepherd just completed its most successful season of its vaquita defense campaign to-date. During Operation Milagro IV, crews removed more fishing gear than all previous Operation Milagro campaigns combined. 385 deadly pieces of illegal fishing gear were removed from the Upper Gulf of California and 854 animals were saved. The Sea of Cortez is one of the most biologically diverse bodies of water in the world and through direct action and the removal of illegal fishing gear from these waters, Sea Shepherd is protecting a wide variety of species that live in the region, including the critically endangered vaquita.

Since starting work in Upper Gulf of California in 2015, Sea Shepherd has removed 808 pieces of illegal fishing gear, saving over 3,000 animals.

SEA SHEPHERD TRABAJA CON PESCADORES LEGALES PARA PROTEGER A LA VAQUITA

 Sea Shepherd no cree en castigar a los pescadores legales debido a lo que los cazadores furtivos hacen.

 San Felipe, 28 de Julio, 2018 – El Jueves, 26 de Julio, un juez americano del tribunal internacional de comercio ordenó a la administración de Trump prohibir todos los mariscos provenientes de redes agalleras desde el Alto Golfo de California, este esfuerzo ha sido orquestado por organizaciones de EUA y ha sido presentado en diferentes áreas con fotografías de Sea Shepherd.

Sea Shepherd no está vinculado con esta prohibición, así como tampoco respalda dicha prohibición. Sea Shepherd nunca ha sido parte de una coalición para solicitar al gobierno de los Estados Unidos que prohíba cualquier exportación mexicana de alimentos marinos, Sea Shepherd jamas a apoyado este esfuerzo. Ademas Sea Shepherd trabaja con las autoridades mexicanas para proteger a la vaquita marina.

Fundador de Sea Shepherd Capitán Paul Watson declaró “Sea Shepherd no sufrió actos hostiles de parte de los pescadores por los esfuerzos en conservación en el Mar de Cortez desde el 2015 a Febrero 2017. Ese fue el mes en que 50 grupos de EUA llamaron a un Boicot contra el camarón Mexicano. En represalia, ya que Sea Shepherd es la única ONG visible físicamente en el área, los pescadores quemaron una panga con el nombre de Sea Shepherd, y amenazaron con asaltar y quemar nuestros barcos”

Desde que Sea Shepherd ha tenido drones derribados por disparos y cocktails molotov lanzados a los barcos de la organización. Cazadores furtivos también han disparado directamente en contra de los barcos, forzando a la Marina Mexicana a disparar en contra, afortunadamente sin heridos.

Capitán Watson continúa “Centros de noticias han estado utilizando imágenes no autorizadas de Sea Shepherd, que muestran nuestro trabajo, mientras publican el anuncio de esta prohibición. Sea Shepherd urge que esto se detenga ya que no apoyamos esta prohibición en lo absoluto, relacionando estos titulares lo cual provoca que pescadores se acerquen a nuestros barcos demandando explicaciones.

El pasado Viernes, pescadores se acercaron al barco de Sea Shepherd con un periódico en la mano con el Titular “TRUMP IMPONE EMBARGO PESQUERO A MÉXICO!.” Este Periódico no ha sido autorizado a utilizar imágenes de Sea Shepherd que muestra a embarcación trabajando en el área ilustrado en el artículo.

Sea Shepherd está activamente en San Felipe trabajando con las autoridades y comunidades locales para proteger a la Vaquita, y no apoya el castigo a pescadores legales – que ya se encuentran bajo presión socio-económica debido las prohibiciones locales y debido a las acciones de los cazadores furtivos.

La organización ya se encuentra trabajando con pescadores legales para remover redes ilegales y reciclaje de las mismas. “Creemos en trabajar con pescadores legales, no en contra de ellos. Lo último que necesitan es que extranjeros los opriman aún más a la pobreza, esto solo desalentara a la comunidad local en la protección de las últimas vaquitas que quedan”, dijo el Capitán Paul Watson.

Sea Shepherd entiende las buenas intenciones de las organizaciones de EUA de tratar de ayudar a la Vaquita, pero cree que dicho esfuerzo no es recomendado, debido a la situación socio-económica y el estrés de la conservación de la Vaquita que ya afecta a las comunidades locales. “Recomendamos fuertemente que los grupos de conservación de EUA, se unan a Sea Shepherd y al trabajo directo que realizamos en la zona.” dijo el Capitán Paul Watson.

Con menos de 30 Vaquitas la necesidad de continuar con este importante trabajo de proteger a las especies es indiscutible. Sea Shepherd acaba de terminar su campaña más exitosa en la protección de la Vaquita Marina. Durante Operación Milagro IV la tripulación removió más artes de pesca ilegales que en todas las operaciones anteriores combinadas. 385 artes de pesca fueron removidos del Alto Golfo de California, 854 animales salvados. El Mar de Cortez es uno de los lugares con mayor biodiversidad en el mundo, Sea Shepherd está protegiendo una gran variedad de especies que viven ahí tanto como la Vaquita.

Desde el comienzo de nuestro trabajo en el Alto Golfo, Sea Shepherd ha removido 808 artes de pesca, salvando más de 3.000 animales.

 

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.

It is the height of totoaba bass spawning season in the Upper Gulf of California, when the endangered fish migrate directly to an area inhabited by the vaquita porpoise. The vaquita is currently the most endangered marine mammal in the world, and continues to be threatened as bycatch in the illegal totoaba trade.

Tensions are rising in the Upper Gulf of California. Poachers have become more aggressive towards Sea Shepherd vessels, using firearms to shoot down drones and incendiary objects to intimidate the crew. Thanks to the addition of armed Enforcement Agents, and an emboldened pact with Mexico’s Environment and Fisheries Ministries, Federal Environmental Attorney’s Office and Federal Police, security has drastically improved, allowing Sea Shepherd to continue its important work protecting the Vaquita Refuge.

saving totoabas -14The totoaba bass is highly sought after due to its valuable swim bladder. Much like shark fins or rhino horns, totoaba bladders are sold in Asian markets as medicinal quackery. One totoaba bladder can sell upwards of 10,000 USD in Asia.

Although poachers in the Gulf of California see only a fraction of the street price, they do well by local standards, which has added the totoaba to the economics of extinction, consequently pushing the vaquita porpoise to the brink of extinction as a tragic side effect.

All seemed normal the evening of March 25th as the Sea Shepherd M/V Sharpie patrolled the protected vaquita area looking for illegal activity. The ship’s captain, Fanch Martin from France, spotted a net by deciphering ship’s sonar data, a new method developed by Sea Shepherd in recent months.

“It was a challenge to maintain the ship’s position in the strong current while the crew pulled the net and saved the fish quickly and efficiently, while at the same time, keeping the longline tight enough so it would not entangle my propeller” said Captain Fanch, adding “The coordination of the crew and the authorities on board was intense. Everyone was involved and focused, it was an all hands on deck moment, and the crew did an amazing job, with the extraordinary outcome of saving every single totoaba in that net; this has never happened before.”

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The M/V Sharpie’s bosun, Willie Hatfield, who coordinated the deck activities stated, “This is a quintessential moment for Operation Milagro, saving a whole school of spawning critically endangered totoaba at once means so much.” After the two intense hours it took to save all the fish and remove the illegal fishing gear from the Sea of Cortez, he added. “As we were leaving, we saw a skiff coming to retrieve the net.

Those fish were five minutes away from death and we saved them, it was a miracle.”

Sea Shepherd operates two former Island Class US Coast Patrol ships in the area protecting the vaquita as part of Operation Milagro IV, the M/V Sharpie and M/V Farley Mowat. Each ship hosts five Enforcement Officers from the Government of Mexico on board, with the ability to make arrests, prevent poaching in the Refuge and assure the proper disposal of dead totoaba fish. The officers were essential in saving the totoaba, as they tirelessly helped the Sea Shepherd crew, both in keeping the fish alive while being freed from the net, and ensuring the vessel’s safety from armed poachers.

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To date Sea Shepherd has removed 596 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the Sea of Cortez since starting its effort to protect the vaquita porpoise in 2015, saving 2661 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 nine 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.

Strengthened Partnership with Mexico Brings Renewed Hope for Vaquita

Mexican Government Enforcement Officers start joint operations on board Sea Shepherd vessels, bolstering chances for survival of endangered vaquita porpoise and addressing security concerns in the region.

SAN FELIPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA MEXICO – February 28th, 2018 –Marine conservation group Sea Shepherd marks closer ties with Mexican government by inaugurating a joint anti-poaching presence on board its vessels stationed in the Sea of Cortez.

With less than 30 vaquita marina porpoises (Phocoena sinus) remaining and a loss of over 90% of the species between 2011 and 2016, Sea Shepherd’s work removing gillnets from the porpoise’s habitat has lent a lifeline to the critically endangered marine mammal.

The main reason for this drastic decline in population is due to bycatch. The vaquita are ensnared in gillnets set to harvest another critically endangered species: the totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), a type of sea bass. Its swim bladder is sold on black markets in China and Hong Kong to make a soup of unproven medicinal benefits. A single totoaba swim bladder can fetch more than $20,000 USD.

Credit SEMARNAT extension of vaquita protected area
The purple area is the extension to the vaquita refuge, the circles are the incidence of vaquitas and the small dots are illegal fishing gear.

The Mexican government is continuing its efforts to prevent the extinction of the vaquita porpoise, including partnering with Sea Shepherd for the past 3 years. This relationship has been fundamental for protecting the remaining vaquitas. It is bolstered by the government’s ongoing support, including placing armed Marines, Federal Police, Fisheries Officers and agents from the Federal Attorney’s Office for Environmental Protection on board the organization’s vessels.

Two Sea Shepherd vessels, M/V John Paul DeJoria and M/V Farley Mowat, now each host six Enforcement Officers onboard, with the ability to make arrests, prevent poaching in the refuge and ensure the proper disposal of dead totoaba fish.

This new facet of the government partnership comes at a time where tensions are rising in Upper Gulf of California. Poachers have become more aggressive towards Sea Shepherd vessels, using firearms to shoot down drones and incendiary objects to intimidate the crew. Thanks to the addition of armed Enforcement Agents, security has drastically improved, allowing Sea Shepherd to continue its work protecting the Vaquita Refuge.

In addition, the government has implemented recommendations using CIRVA and Sea Shepherd’s data to identify a new area of high risk for the vaquita porpoise. The Mexican secretariat for the Environment announced on February 9th a new plan to save the vaquita, including a new protected area, where efforts will be focused to remove illegal nets.

To date Sea Shepherd has removed 541 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the Sea of Cortez since starting its effort to protect the vaquita porpoise in 2015, saving 2566 animals in the process. This number does not include the countless animals saved by the removal of these illegal gillnets from their habitat.

Image Credit: Sea Shepherd/ Manuel Leyva/ Rodolphe Villevieille

Sea Shepherd Saves Endangered Totoaba Following Second Drone Shooting

Sea Shepherd crew faces second drone shooting while protecting the critically endangered vaquita porpoise in Mexico.

Despite gunshots being fired at its drone again, conservation group Sea Shepherd, together with the Mexican Navy, drove poachers off the protected vaquita refuge and saved the life of an endangered totoaba fish from their illegal nets.

This was the second shoot-out, and the first in daylight, directed at Sea Shepherd in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico, in less than a week.

The first incident, which occurred on Christmas Eve, poachers shot down the conservationists’ night vision drone. The NGO is currently in the area for Operation Milagro IV, where it is actively protecting the totoaba bass and the near-extinct vaquita porpoise.

On December 30th, 2017, the Sea Shepherd vessel, M/V John Paul DeJoria, was patrolling for poachers and gillnets within the vaquita refuge. At 15:30, the crew identified a poaching skiff through binoculars, visibly pulling up a net less than one nautical mile away.

Even though its night drone was shot down by an automatic rifle six days earlier, Sea Shepherd still sent another drone to investigate the poacher’s activity from above. The drone team quickly confirmed the crew’s initial assessment: poachers were pulling out a gillnet in the middle of the vaquita refuge in broad daylight.

Poachers are targeting the critically endangered totoaba fish to sell its swim bladder on the black market in China and Hong Kong for unproven medicinal properties. One swim bladder can collect more than U$20,000. For that reason, the fish is commonly referred to as “aquatic cocaine.”

Poachers may set these gillnets to catch one species, but the nets don’t discriminate, catching all that swims in these waters including the most endangered marine mammal in the world – the vaquita porpoise.

With clear skies overhead, it didn’t take long for the poachers to spot the drone above them. The Sea Shepherd crew heard six gunshots from the bow of the marine conservation’s vessel. When drone operator Jack Hutton saw the poachers pull the net into their skiff before taking off, he made the decision to fly the drone back to the ship. Footage from the incident shows that one of the individuals in the skiff had a handgun and used it.

Captain Benoit Sandjian informed the Mexican Navy of the situation and they arrived shortly on the scene. After checking that the Sea Shepherd vessel was safe, the Navy began to pursue the poachers’ skiff.

In the meantime, the M/V John Paul DeJoria headed towards the location coordinates where the poachers briefly stopped during their escape. Once there, the crew discovered a totoaba net with a live adult totoaba, struggling for its life.

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Mexican Navy speed boat

Without Sea Shepherd’s intervention, the trapped totoaba would have been a lucrative catch for poachers, and a significant loss for this critically endangered species.

“This developing sequence of events makes it appear as though poachers are now carrying firearms in the Upper Gulf of California,” said Captain Benoit. “They are not hesitating to make use of them, in close proximity to our vessel, be it day or night. Sea Shepherd has been facing threats from poachers over the last few years during Operation Milagro but we are now observing a new level of violence in this area”.

Despite the difficulties to protect the vaquita porpoise and totoaba fish, Mexican authorities continue to take a strong stance on conservation. With less than 30 vaquita in existence, the Mexican government has showed the world they are not willing to let this species go extinct, and are working with various groups, including partnering with Sea Shepherd to remove illegal gillnets and patrol for poachers.

Sea Shepherd currently has two vessels in the area, with a third on the way.

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Visit our 
 
Operation Milagro IV

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Sea Shepherd ship Jean Paul DeJoria
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Sea Shepherd crew saves totoaba

All Photos: Sam Rose Philips

Sea Shepherd Night Drone Shot Down by Poachers

Tension rises in the fight to protect the critically endangered vaquita porpoise.

Ocean conservation group Sea Shepherd was surprised by gunfire on Christmas Eve resulting in a drone being shot down by poachers in the Gulf of California, Mexico.

The Sea Shepherd vessel M/V John Paul DeJoria was on patrol looking for poachers when its crew observed suspicious activity on the radar at 9:30 pm on December 24th. The vessel is currently in the Upper Gulf for Operation Milagro IV, to protect the critically endangered vaquita porpoise and totoaba bass.

Captain Benoit Sandjian directed the Sea Shepherd crew to fly the night vision drone to investigate the targets. Three skiffs were moving through the gill net exclusion zone.

“Poachers often conceal themselves in the cover of night, which is what we suspected to be the case here,” said the captain of the M/V John Paul DeJoria.

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Drone Pilot Jack Hutton launches drone. Photo: Sam Rose Philips

The poachers are targeting the critically endangered totoaba fish, in order to harvest their swim bladder. Much like shark fins, these bladders are sought for their alleged medicinal powers and sold on black markets in China and Hong Kong for tens of thousands of dollars. Poachers set gillnets to catch totoaba, but the nets catch everything in their path, including the most endangered marine mammal in the world – the elusive vaquita porpoise.

The conservationists’ drone had traveled approximately 2.8 nautical miles from the vessel and was hovering above a suspicious skiff, when five gunshots rang across the sea. Upon reviewing the footage from this incident, the crew confirmed that one of the individuals in the skiff was in possession of a firearm.

The crew replaced the drone’s batteries and immediately took to the sky once more to inspect another skiff 1.4 nautical miles away. At this point, they lowered the Matrice drone to 100 feet in order to get a better look at the suspect vessel.

Thirteen gunshots were fired and instantly the drone’s monitor went dark, reading ‘disconnected’. “Our drone was shot down,” said drone operator Jack Hutton. “The poachers don’t want us looking at them, even if it means making use of automatic weapons, reaching a new level of violence.”

In the past, poachers have attempted to strike Sea Shepherd’s drone with rocks, bricks, and even fish, however this incident is the first time that the drones have been shot at.

Sea Shepherd president and founder Captain Paul Watson has always maintained that the camera is the organization’s greatest weapon. It is no secret to poachers that the video drone is critical to Sea Shepherd in saving the vaquita porpoise from extinction by finding the location of illegal nets and recovering them.

The tension has been increasing in the fight to save the vaquita, which is endemic to the Gulf of California. Scientists estimate that there are less than 30 vaquitas in existence. Earlier this year, at a demonstration, a group of fishermen took a small skiff, painted the words “Sea Shepherd” on it, and then burned it in the streets of San Felipe’s fishing village.

Sea Shepherd is working with Mexican authorities and the Mexican Navy to patrol the area and recover illegal gillnets on its 4th season of Operation Milagro. “We are not going anywhere,” said Captain Sandjian. “We will not be intimidated by these threats. The vaquita needs us, and so does the long list of species impacted by poachers in the Sea of Cortez. For as long as there are illegal nets in these waters, Sea Shepherd will be here to pull them out.”

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Operation Milagro IV

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3 suspect targets on radar. Photo: Sam Rose Philips
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Jack Hutton flies drone. Photo: Sam Rose Philips
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Poachers shooting at Sea Shepherd night drone. Photo: Jack Hutton