Sea Shepherd Initiates Early Patrols to Safeguard Survival of Critically Endangered Vaquita Porpoise

Sea Shepherd returns to the Sea of Cortez to resume patrols protecting the critically endangered vaquita porpoise for the fifth season.

San Felipe, Mexico – August 20th, 2018 – Sea Shepherd vessel the M/V Farley Mowat has arrived in the Upper Gulf of California in order to start Operation Milagro early this year.  In previous years, the campaign has started as the totoaba fish returns from its migration to the vaquita habitat, around early November.  Due to the critical state in which the vaquita porpoise species finds itself – currently the most endangered marine mammal in the world – Sea Shepherd is back earlier this season, with renewed strength to apply its proven techniques to protect the smallest porpoise in the world.

“There is work to do to ensure the vaquita survives. Sea Shepherd will start removing inactive totoaba fishing gear, also known as ghost nets and we will come across occasional active nets this early in the season,” said Sea Shepherd Director of Marine Operations and Campaigns Captain Locky Maclean. “We are also ensuring no fishing is taking place inside the protected area and preventing poaching activities by patrolling the area with our partner agencies from the Mexican Government on-board.”

The last study released showed that less than 30 vaquita were alive. Scientists have not published a new estimate in two years.

Sea Shepherd is launching Operation Milagro V, the fifth season the marine conservation group will use direct-action tactics to protect the vaquita. Milagro is the Spanish word for miracle- an appropriate name given that when the campaign began, there had been no registered vaquita sightings in two years.  Many people were saying the marine mammal was already extinct.  The Sea Shepherd team sighted and recorded a vaquita in early 2015. This happened as the Mexican government renewed its commitment to protect this endemic species and a partnership was born.

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Since then, Sea Shepherd has developed the only proven method to date to conserve the small porpoise alive:  the removal of illegal fishing gear from its habitat.

The reason for the rapid decline of the vaquita is the poaching of the totoaba fish.  After the totoaba was harvested to near extinction in the mid-seventies, its fishing was banned.

Recently, however, it was discovered that the totoaba closely resembled a Chinese endemic croaker, which was critically endangered due to the demand for its swim bladder. This resulted in the start of huge amounts of illegal fishing for the totoaba in search of the swim bladder, believed to have medicinal properties. This doomed not only the fish, but even more tragically, the vaquita.  The two species are of a similar size and during the totoaba spawning season, they inhabit the same exact location. This results in the death of the vaquita from the fishing nets, known as gillnets, laid to catch the totoaba.

While vaquitas used to fall prey as bycatch from fishing for shrimp and fin fish, they are now victims of the gillnets made precisely to catch a fish the same size as the vaquita.

These nets, in combination with the insatiable demand for the swim bladders in China, and the obscene value poachers can sell these bladders for – allegedly a poacher can make $2,500 per totoaba bladder, which will sell for $20,000 in Asian black markets-  create a challenge the vaquita and the totoaba have never seen before.

It is therefore critical that Sea Shepherd is there to remove illegal nets and free marine wildlife.

The Mexican government has made an unprecedented effort to save their native species, dedicating a large part of the navy, the army and several other governmental institutions to solve the issue.  It is no small task and Sea Shepherd has witnessed the efforts of hundreds of people working together to protect the vaquita. Sea Shepherd works in partnership with Mexico to remove the illegal fishing gear from the vaquita habitat and provide information and expertise advice to the authorities.  The conservationists also provide important data to scientists and work with the community to move away from unsustainable industries and promote conservation.

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Sea Shepherd has removed 808 illegal pieces of fishing gear since we began our operations. This has cost the poachers an estimated $857,779 USD just in lost fishing gear..  Sea Shepherd has saved 3069 animals, including one humpback whale, 88 critically endangered totoaba fish, one critically endangered pacific leatherback turtle and 21 sharks. Those numbers do not include the hundreds of animals saved by the removal of the nets and other fishing gear before the animals become entangled.

However, protecting the vaquita from illegal activity is no easy feat. Sea Shepherd has had a drone shot down as well as shots fired at one of the ships.

“If Sea Shepherd had not been present in the Sea of Cortez, the vaquita could be extinct by now,” said Captain Paul Watson, founder and CEO of the conservation organization.  “Each year we become more efficient at the task of protecting the vaquita porpoise.”

Last year alone, we removed more fishing gear than we had in all previous years combined.  For Milagro V, we have a new vessel with better capabilities to remove nets being fitted for campaign right now.” Continued Captain Watson, “For all the people saying there is no hope for the vaquita, we disagree. We will keep fighting for her, and we will fight harder than ever. I encourage all of you to join us.”

The campaign has no end date, as the need to keep a tight watch on the vaquita porpoise becomes even more urgent. Sea Shepherd undertook what it takes to pull the species back from the brink of extinction: a presence in the Upper Gulf of California, patrolling the vaquita habitat and removing the threats that kill the porpoise.

New Ship Strengthens Sea Shepherd’s Effort to Save the Vaquita

Renewed hope to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise as Sea Shepherd crews work tirelessly to repair newest addition to the fleet in anticipation of net retrieval operations in the Upper Gulf of California. 

Fernandina Beach, FL – Sep 6th, 2018 – Sea Shepherd has received a generous vessel donation from philanthropist Benoit Vulliet which will enable the marine conservation group to be more effective in their fight to save the most endangered marine mammal in the world, Mexico’s critically endangered vaquita porpoise.  

The newest anti-poaching vessel in Neptune’s Navy, as the organization’s fleet is known, is former U.S. Coast Guard Buoy Tender White Holly. The organization also operates three former U.S. Coast Guard Island Class Cutters currently engaged in marine conservation and anti-poaching operations. 

White Holly was built at Basalt Ship Building in 1944 and served in World War II in Pearl Harbor delivering ammunition to naval vessels. She was acquired by the Coast Guard in 1946 and served until the seventies protecting the Alaskan coastline.  The vessel was later transferred to Mississippi as a Buoy Tender to restore aids to navigation damaged by hurricanes until her retirement from the Coast Guard in 1998.

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Benoit Vulliet acquired the White Holly for oceanographic research.  Due to a busy schedule and living in Europe, Mr. Vulliet found it difficult to continue managing the vessel, deciding to donate her to Sea Shepherd for a continued life of service, this time to protect marine wildlife and habitat.  

“I know that this boat will do a good job with Sea Shepherd,” said Mr. Vulliet. “I will always be a pirate. I am very happy to be a part of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society”.  

The vessel’s first new mission as part of the Sea Shepherd fleet will be joining Operation Milagro V in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. The campaign aims to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. Vaquitas are endangered because of gillnet poaching, mostly meant to catch the totoaba fish. Like the vaquita, the totoaba is endemic to the Sea of Cortez and critically endangered. The fish are being heavily targeted for their swim bladders, which are illegally sold for exorbitant amounts of money in Asian black markets. It is said that a totoaba bladder can fetch up to $20,000 USD in China.  

“Coast Guard Buoy tenders have low freeboard and large working decks, just what our dedicated volunteers crew members need to pull illegal nets efficiently from the sea. The ship is also very fuel efficient, which means we will be able to stay at sea for longer periods while ridding the vaquita refuge of illegal gillnets,” said Sea Shepherd’s founder and CEO Captain Paul Watson. Acoustic monitoring estimates from 2015 showed that less than 30 vaquita were still alive. This data triggered varied reactions from the scientific and conservation community including the notion that trying to save the vaquita porpoise is a lost cause. 

“It’s always been my opinion, that the only causes really worth fighting for are lost causes,” said Watson. “It’s incredible how many times Sea Shepherd has pulled through, and lost causes have turned into victories. As a matter of fact we believe the vaquita would not still be here if Sea Shepherd had not had the initiative to start removing nets from the vaquita habitat, working with Mexican authorities.” He concluded, “Sea Shepherd’s effort of removing gillnets from the vaquita habitat, so far has been the only proven effective method to save the porpoise.” 

Sea Shepherd’s M/V White Holly will undertake major refit work in Fernandina Beach, Florida.  The crew received a warm visit from Mayor Johnny Miller to welcome the ship to the community, which has been very supportive of Sea Shepherd’s work and mission. The vessel is scheduled to depart in December for Mexico by way of the Panama Canal.

Sea Shepherd Works With Legal Fishermen to Protect the Vaquita


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 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

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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.