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Sea Shepherd’s inaugural Operation Milagro brought much-needed attention to the plight of the vaquita, spawning groundbreaking efforts to protect this imperiled species. On April 18, 2015, Sea Shepherd crewmembers documented the first recorded sighting of a vaquita since 2013, shattering claims by some locals that the species is already extinct. The resulting video made national headlines in Mexico, prompting the government to reach out to Sea Shepherd.

The following month, a partnership between Sea Shepherd and the Mexican government was announced and since then, the two sides have worked together to protect the vaquita. This partnership now extends to the Mexican Navy, CONAPESCA, PROFEPA, Mexico Port Authority, Procuradora General de la Republica (PGR).

Through the use of high-tech drones, sonar, and crew-invented “phantom ray”, Sea Shepherd locates, identifies, and retrieves the illegal nets, which can be up to 600 meters long and 15 feet high. Crew identify, document, and release the animals trapped in the nets. When a dead totoaba is found, the whole fish is destroyed to prevent the poachers from gaining any profit from it.

To date, Sea Shepherd has run five campaigns to save the vaquita, removing about 1,000 pieces (over 100 miles) of illegal fishing gear from the Sea of Cortez, costing the poachers and the cartels that employ them nearly one million USD dollars in fishing gear. 3,400 animals have been rescued alive from the nets. Thousands more protected by the removal of these nets from their habitats.

Since 2015, Sea Shepherd’s fleet: M/V Farley Mowat, M/Y Sam Simon, MV White Holly, MV Sharpie have all been involved in the campaign.

Please see the recap of each campaign on here. Sea Shepherd’s work in saving the vaquita is also featured on NatGeo’s Sea of Shadows, which is currently out in theaters.