SAN FELIPE, BAJA CALIFORNIA MEXICO – January 2nd, 2018 – Despite gunshots being fired at its drone again, conservation group Sea Shepherd, together with the Mexican Navy, drove poachers off the protected vaquita refuge and saved the life of an endangered totoaba fish from their illegal nets.
This was the second shoot out, and the first in daylight, directed at Sea Shepherd in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico, in less than one week.
The first incident, which occurred on Christmas Eve, poachers shot down the conservationists’ night vision drone. The NGO is currently in the area for Operation Milagro IV, where it is actively protecting the totoaba bass and the near-extinct vaquita porpoise.
On December 30th, 2017, the Sea Shepherd vessel, M/V John Paul DeJoria, was patrolling for poachers and gillnets within the vaquita refuge. At 15:30, the crew identified a poaching skiff through binoculars, visibly pulling up a net less than one nautical mile away.
Even though its night drone was shot down by an automatic rifle six days earlier, Sea Shepherd still sent another drone to investigate the poacher’s activity from above. The drone team quickly confirmed the crew’s initial assessment: poachers were pulling out a gillnet in the middle of the vaquita refuge in broad daylight.
Poachers are targeting the critically endangered totoaba fish to sell its swim bladder on the black market in China and Hong Kong for unproven medicinal properties. One swim bladder can collect more than $20,000. For that reason, the fish is commonly referred to as “aquatic cocaine.”