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.

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.

Op Milagro IV Logo

Visit our 
Operation Milagro IV

site for more information.


Sea Shepherd ship Jean Paul DeJoria
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.”

Op Milagro IV Logo

Visit our 
Operation Milagro IV

site for more information.


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

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.

Under the Skin prints are hand-crafted pieces of art with a powerful underlying message: under UV light, the phosphorescent skeleton of each animal is exposed, a reminder of all that remains when a species falls into the darkness of extinction.

Since launching in 2015, Under the Skin prints are becoming known for this unique style, concept and process. Previous pieces have included prints of the Polar Bear, Sunda Pangolin, Forsten Tortoise, African Elephant and more. Twenty percent of Under The Skin’s proceeds go to organizations dedicated to protecting each species.

Sea Shepherd Four-Print Collaboration

The inaugural print supporting Sea Shepherd’s work will be of the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. This print will be the first of four marine species in the exclusive “Ocean Warrior Series” created in partnership with Sea Shepherd. They will be released throughout 2018.

Designed and printed by the Welsh-born Harrison siblings, Under The Skin prints are created in a limited-edition 40 prints per animal, each retailing for £265. Twenty percent of proceeds per print will go to four different Sea Shepherd campaigns directly helping the specific endangered animal.

Each print comes wrapped in screen printed wrapping paper and is accompanied by a UV torch, a makers booklet showing the creation process, and a charity description card.

The vaquita porpoise is the smallest and most endangered marine mammal in the world. Endemic to Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez. The tiny porpoise has garnered media attention in recent years due to its diminishing numbers as there are currently less than 30 in existence.

Sea Shepherd has spent the last four years patrolling the Sea of Cortez as part of its Operation Milagro campaign where vessels patrol for poachers and find and remove illegal gillnets which trap and drown the vaquita, along with other marine wildlife.

For more information about Sea Shepherd’s Milagro campaign, visit:

“When we heard from Sea Shepherd about the plight of the smallest porpoise in the world on the brink of extinction, we knew we had to start working on a print to raise awareness,” said James Harrison. “Sea Shepherd has been on the forefront of the movement to protect it, and without their four consecutive campaigns I’m sure this incredible animal would be extinct by now. We’re thrilled to be working with Sea Shepherd to join forces to do anything we can to save the vaquita before it’s too late.”

“My brother and I have long admired Captain Paul Watson and the organization he founded 40 years ago,” added Ed Harrison. “Working with him has been a dream come true and we’re looking forward to raising awareness for the species within the ‘Sea Shepherd series’ as a team.”

Prints are currently available to pre-order from our website at deliver worldwide, and all orders placed by December 14th will see a guaranteed delivery by December 25th.

Sea Shepherd’s Campaign To Save the Vaquita Porpoise Launches in Mexico with Two Vessels

The M/V Farley Mowat and the M/V John Paul DeJoria kick off Operation Milagro IV in the Gulf of California in collaboration with the Mexican Government

Continuing its relentless commitment to stop the imminent extinction of the endangered vaquita porpoise, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is returning to Mexico’s Gulf of California for Operation Milagro IV.

Milagro IV, a vaquita defense campaign, will have Sea Shepherd’s M/V Farley Mowat back on active duty for the third consecutive year in the Gulf of California – the only waters on Earth which are home to this shy and elusive mammal.

Joining the Farley for the first time on a Milagro campaign will be the M/V John Paul DeJoria. The vessel is arriving from the Caribbean where it was engaged in Operation Good Pirates of the Caribbean, a relief mission that brought aid to islands affected by Hurricane Maria and Irma.

With Milagro IV, Sea Shepherd will once again work with the Mexican government to address the urgent need to protect the elusive vaquita before it is too late. Both the Farley and the JPD will protect the waters of the vaquita marine reserve, remove nets, patrol for poachers, document issues facing this endangered cetacean and continue to collect data to share with the scientific community. The campaign will run through May 2018.

About the vaquita

The vaquita’s signature dark circles around its eyes and lips have earned it the nickname Panda of the Sea. At around 5ft in length, it is also the smallest marine mammal in the world….and the most endangered. The most recent statistics show the population has dwindled to an estimated less than 30 individuals.

The vaquita is particularly susceptible to population decline, with a slower rate of reproduction than that of other porpoise species – giving birth to only one calf every two years. The species also has a comparatively short lifespan of approximately 20 years.

Yet despite these vulnerabilities, the biggest threat to the vaquita’s survival are illegal gillnets fishermen put out to catch another endangered species: the totoaba bass. The fates of these two sea animals are intertwined. Similar in size to the totoaba, the vaquita gets caught in these gillnets, suffocates and drowns. Meanwhile the captured totoaba has its swim bladder removed and transported to China and Hong Kong where it sells for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market to be for unsubstantiated medicinal properties.

“We must have a higher regard for ocean life if these species are to survive,” said Campaign Leader Jean Paul Geoffroy. “Human greed and lack of respect for the oceans is responsible for near-wipeout of the vaquita. If it goes extinct, that’s another broken link in the eco-chain and one step closer to our own extinction. Sea Shepherd will not give up its fight to save the vaquita and the totoaba.”

Added Sea Shepherd Founder and CEO Captain Paul Watson: “Sea Shepherd is now taking on Milagro IV, our fourth year of the challenging task of preventing the extinction of the endangered vaquita. If not for the confiscation of hundreds of nets and our drone interventions in finding the poachers at night, the vaquita would now be extinct. There are some people who say this is a lost cause and that extinction is inevitable. We disagree. Increased patrols, increased interventions coupled with the courage and the passion of our volunteer crews can prevail. To those who say this is a lost cause, we intend to prove them wrong. Saving the vaquita from extinction is a challenge but we are up for that challenge and we hope that you agree. Making the impossible possible is something we have been doing for forty years.”