Sea Shepherd Drones Attacked Again

Published Jan 2, 2018 7:56 AM by The Maritime Executive

More shots have been fired at Sea Shepherd drones in the Gulf of California, Mexico. A second incident, the first in daylight, occurred less than a week after fishermen shot down the group's night vision drone with an automatic rifle.  

The conservation group is working with the Mexican Navy to prevent fishermen from endangering the protected vaquita porpoise from being tangled in fishing nets set for the endangered totoaba fish. Poachers are targeting the totoaba 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.”

While the nets target totoaba, they have also been found to be impacting the population of the most endangered marine mammal in the world - the vaquita porpoise.

The second shooting incident, which took place on December 30, 2017, occurred when the Sea Shepherd vessel, M/V John Paul DeJoria, was patrolling for poachers and gillnets within the vaquita refuge. Using binoculars, the crew identified a skiff pulling up a net less than one nautical mile away. Sea Shepherd sent a drone to confirm the fishermen were indeed pulling out a gillnet. Six shots were fired at the drone from the skiff using a handgun.

Captain Benoit Sandjian informed the Mexican Navy of the situation and they arrived shortly on the scene. After checking that the Sea Shepherd vessel was safe, the Navy began to pursue the poachers’ skiff.

In the meantime, the M/V John Paul DeJoria headed towards the location coordinates where the poachers briefly stopped during their escape. Once there, the crew discovered a totoaba net with a live adult totoaba, struggling for its life. The net was recovered and the totoaba disentangled and set free.

“This developing sequence of events makes it appear as though poachers are now carrying firearms in the Upper Gulf of California,” said Benoit. “They are not hesitating to make use of them, in close proximity to our vessel, be it day or night. Sea Shepherd has been facing threats from poachers over the last few years during Operation Milagro but we are now observing a new level of violence in this area.”

Despite the difficulties to protect the vaquita porpoise and totoaba fish, Mexican authorities continue to take a strong stance on conservation. With less than 30 vaquita in existence, the Mexican government has showed the world they are not willing to let this species go extinct, and are working with various groups, including partnering with Sea Shepherd to remove illegal gillnets and patrol for poachers.

Sea Shepherd currently has two vessels in the area, with a third on the way.