M/V Sam Simon arriving from Italy to join the campaign for the first time
Continuing its 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 III.
Operation Milagro III, 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 Mowat for the first time on a Milagro campaign will be the M/V Sam Simon. The vessel is arriving from Europe where it recently tackled illegal fishing in the Plemmirio Marine Reserve in Sicily, Italy. The Simon will be joining Operation Milagro III in December.
With Operation Milagro III, Sea Shepherd will once again work with the Mexican government to address the urgent need to protect the critically endangered vaquita before it is too late. Both the Mowat and the Simon will protect the vaquita marine reserve, patrol for poachers, document issues facing this cetacean and continue to collect data to share with the scientific community.
Sea Shepherd will also conduct outreach in the region, meeting with marine biologists, researchers and other NGOs working locally to save the vaquita.
About the vaquita porpoise
Known as the world’s smallest and rarest marine mammal, the vaquita is facing a real threat of extinction. The most recent statistics show the population has dwindled to an estimated less than 60 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 poachers using illegal gill nets to catch the totoaba bass – another critically endangered marine species endemic to the Gulf of California. Vaquitas often become entangled in the gill nets and are unable to reach the surface of the water to breathe, causing them to drown.
“For a species such as the vaquita and totoaba to get so close to extinction due to human behavior is proof that mankind’s priorities are not where they should be,” said Campaign Leader and Director of Ship Operations, Captain Oona Layolle. “If we lose these two species, we will be one step closer to our own extinction. It is only by changing our attitude and behavior can there be hope for them, and for us. Sea Shepherd will not give up its fight to save the vaquita and the totoaba.”
“As Sea Shepherd’s partnership with the Mexican Navy enters its third year, we are increasing our effectiveness due to our experiences,” said Sea Shepherd Founder, President and Executive Director, Captain Paul Watson. “We are now much more efficient in locating and confiscating illegal nets and we have developed a very close working relationship with the Mexican Naval officers and crew. Captain Oona Layolle is fluent in Spanish, French and English and has done a remarkable job of building this partnership in to what it is today.”
About Operation Milagro
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. Sea Shepherd’s dedication to save this porpoise has garnered international attention and its work has been documented on 60 Minutes, CNN, The New York Times and more.