Dead vaquita found in totoaba net

February 2019 Vaquita Update

This update summarizes net removals from February and news that also includes the first half of March.  The Report of the 11th meeting of CIRVA is summarized in an earlier news item on this website.  On 13 March a dead vaquita was found in a net by the Sea Shepherd net removal team (more details here).  The headless carcass of the female was identified as a vaquita by the University of Baja California in Ensenada using genetics and skeletal examination. With at most 22 vaquitas estimated to remain as of September 2018, the loss of this individual is very grave.

A new publication “Likely annual calving in the vaquita, Phocoena sinus: a new hope?” was published in Marine Mammal Science.

The number of net removals in February was lower than that in February 2018 but the effort this year was primarily in the last 2 weeks of the month because the Sea Shepherd ships were undergoing repairs and being modified to make them better able to withstand attacks from poachers.  Another difference between 2018 and 2019 is that net removal effort this year is being concentrated on the area where vaquitas were last seen and heard.  Like last year, 3 ships are removing nets:  the Narval (Museo de Ballena) and the Sharpie and Farley Mowat (Sea Shepherd).  A summary of efforts during 2018 was given in the December 2018 vaquita update.

December
January
February
TOTAL
Farley Mowat
41
13
6
60
Sharpie
8
8
Narval
9
10
19
TOTAL
41
22
24
87

The map below (Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Internal Reports, 2019) shows the locations of active nets removed through February 2019 by both the Farley Mowat, Sharpie and Narval (yellow dots for Feburary and black dots for earlier this totoaba season).  The black line shows the area of enhanced protection including both the Vaquita Refuge and the enhanced enforcement area recommended by CIRVA  last year.

 

11th meeting of the Vaquita Recovery Team

The report of the 11th meeting of the international vaquita recovery team (CIRVA), held in La Jolla, California on 19-21 February 2019, is now available. The report recommends a series of immediate, near-term, medium-term, and long-term actions to prevent extinction of the vaquita. It calls on the Government of Mexico to do a great deal more than has been done to date to eliminate illegal fishing for totoaba, with the focus of enforcement and net-removal efforts now centered in the small area where the few remaining vaquitas have been observed (acoustically) and visually over the past six months. This is expected to be treated as a ‘Zero Tolerance Area’ where the goal is to remove any illegal net within hours of its deployment, particularly during the totoaba season, which continues through April and into early May. The report also provides updates on the acoustic monitoring program and other scientific work, net-removal efforts, development and testing of alternative fishing gear, and various socio-economic and legal issues.

 

January 2019 Vaquita Update

January was a month marked by the violent action of illegal fishermen directed toward people engaged in net removal efforts. Press releases including video of the attacks are available here for the January 9th attack and here for the January 31st attack. Men in multiple pangas set upon the Sea Shepherd’s Farley Mowat and a Navy Defender vessel, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. Because of these attacks, only 7 days of net-removal effort were possible (4 for the Farley Mowat and 3 for the Museo de Ballena’s Narval). Twenty-two active totoaba nets were removed, all within the Vaquita Refuge and near where the attacks occurred.

The net-removal effort will resume because, as the totoaba spawning season advances, conditions become increasingly dangerous for the remaining vaquitas.  Through December 2018, the first month of the 2018-2019 totoaba spawning season, 41 active totoaba nets were removed by the Farley Mowat, more than were removed in December 2017.

A recap of efforts during 2018 can be found in the December 2018 vaquita update.

The map below (Source: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Internal Reports, 2019) shows the locations of active nets removed in January 2019 by both the Farley Mowat and Narval (black dots for December and yellow dots for January). The black line shows the area of enhanced protection including both the Vaquita Refuge and the enhanced enforcement area recommended by the 2018 CIRVA meeting.

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