December 2019 – February 2020 Vaquita Update

As a review, the 2018-2019 totoaba net-removal effort was greatly reduced due to violent attacks where net-removal vessels were forced to leave the area (Table 1).  Press releases including video of the attacks are available here for the January 9th attack and here for the January 31st attack.  No arrests were made for these attacks despite the fact that persons involved were identified and documented.  A recap of efforts during 2018 can be found in the December 2018 vaquita update.  Attacks have continued to occur this year, including shots being fired at the Sea Shepherd ship inside the Vaquita Refuge (see footage here).  A report on research September/October 2019 is available here.  A best estimate was that around 6 non-calves and 3 calves remain within the Zero Tolerance Area (ZTA).  These unexpectedly ‘high’ numbers are encouraging given the continuing high level of illegal gillnetting activities inside this last holdout area for the vaquitas.

 

Table 1. Total number of active totoaba nets removed during the 2018-19 poaching season including all ships that participated in the operations. Poaching season is defined as the months when gillnets are actively placed to capture totoaba, and corresponds to the time when their migration cycle brings them into the Upper Gulf of California. Dashes indicate months when the vessels were not present. During this season no active totoaba nets were found earlier than December. Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society internal reports 2018-19.

2018-19 POACHING SEASON
December January February March April May June TOTAL
Farley Mowat 41 13 6 35 3 98
Sharpie 8 26 1 0 35
White Holly 1 1
Narval 9 10 6 25
TOTAL 41 22 24 67 4 1 1 160

Nets removed in the current totoaba spawning season suggest a somewhat slow season to date (Table 2).  Nevertheless, nets are being removed both within the Zero Tolerance Area (the only area marked with buoys deployed from the Museo de Ballena’s vessel, the Narval) and the Vaquita Refuge (Figure 1).

 

Table 2. Total number of active totoaba nets removed during the current poaching season. No active totoaba nets were found before November 2019. Note that in November, 12 active totoaba nets were found south of the focal area in the Bahía Gonzaga region during a joint operation with the Mexican Navy. These nets have not been included in the current table and map to maintain consistency with the usual range of net removal operations. Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society internal reports 2019-20.

2019-20 POACHING SEASON
November December January February TOTAL
Farley Mowat 2 17 1 2 22
Sharpie 38 23  24 85
Narval 0  –
TOTAL 2 54 24  26 106

 

Figure 1.  Map showing active totoaba nets removed by all participating vessels through January (1a) and through February (1b). Black dots represent active totoaba nets removed during the months of November and December 2019. Red dots represent active totoaba nets removed during January 2020. Red-shaded area represents the Zero Tolerance Area within the Vaquita Refuge, recommended by CIRVA in 2019 as it was determined to be a particularly high-use area for vaquitas. The corners of this area were marked with luminous yellow buoys made and deployed by the Museo de Ballena in October 2019; the buoys are indicated on the map as yellow triangles. There are no buoys marking the Vaquita Refuge.  Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society internal reports 2019-20.

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