Friday, March 2, 2018

Armed Attacks on Aerial Drones Prompt Military Action Against Aquatic Poachers  

World's Rarest Marine Mammal Just Collateral Damage in an Evil Trade

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Shipping News Feature MEXICO – US – CHINA – Our photograph shows the moment a poacher in the Gulf of California starts firing a handgun at an aerial drone recording his skiff attempting to catch endangered species. The drone, operated by marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, was replacing its predecessor hit and destroyed by rifle fire in another similar incident six nights previously. The dramatic escalation of hostilities to a point where the poachers are carrying arms has however had one beneficial effect in that Sea Shepherd vessels are now accompanied by armed Marines, Federal Police, Fisheries Officers and agents from the Federal Attorney's Office for Environmental Protection on board the organisation's vessels.

Sea Shepherd took to the ocean in the autumn of 2017 in its latest bid to help two threatened species. The rare totoaba bass, a member of the drum fish family and formerly found growing to almost 300 pounds, was almost hunted to extinction in the 1960’s when its persecution ceased as stocks dwindled. Unfortunately this is another ‘Chinese medicine’ story with a black market willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the fishes swim bladder, despite the fact there is no firm evidence that it holds any medicinal properties whatsoever. The Mexican, US and Chinese governments agreed in December to try and halt the trade.

Now, with the fish at last regaining a foothold, the few totoaba which are caught rarely weigh in at more than 70 pounds, having not had time to mature, but there is an even greater ecological threat. The local waters are the last holding ground for the rarest of aquatic porpoises, the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), and sit inside a triangle of three fishing villages. The illegal gill nets used to try and catch the rare drum fish also trap any passing inquisitive vaquita, of which there are only 30 known specimens.

These mammals need to reach the surface to breathe and are suffocated by being enmeshed in the nets. The Sea Shepherd operation, currently conducted by two of its vessels, is shortly to include a third and the organisation has been greatly helped by the cooperation of the Mexican authorities. The mission, named Milagro lV (miracle in Spanish) has been greatly boosted after the man pictured fired six shots at the drone in broad daylight with Mexican naval vessels taking a higher profile and mounting more patrols in support of the ecologists own craft.

To date Sea Shepherd has removed over 540 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the Sea of Cortez since originally starting its effort to protect the vaquita porpoises in 2015, To learn more about this, and other environmental projects being undertaken by Sea Shepherd simply use this link, whilst of course any donations in support of such works will doubtless be gratefully received.

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