Collision at Sea as Sea Shepherd Vessels Attacked in Mexico’s Vaquita Refuge
SAN FELIPE, BCN, Mexico (January 2, 2021) — At approximately 07:00 on the morning of December 31st, a group of assailants in 5-7 fishing boats (known locally as pangas) launched a violent attack on Sea Shepherd vessels Farley Mowat and Sharpie inside the Zero Tolerance Area of Mexico’s federally-protected Vaquita Refuge.
The incident began as the crew of the Farley Mowat undertook efforts to retrieve a gillnet from the protected region, home to the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. Gillnet fishing is banned in the region, and Sea Shepherd is working with Mexican authorities to deter poaching and remove illegal fishing gear from the area. As the conservation vessel attempted to remove the net from the refuge, several pangas aggressively approached the ship, launching lead weights and Molotov cocktails at the crew and military officials on board.
Following routine anti-piracy procedures, the Farley Mowat undertook defensive maneuvering to avoid the attacks. As the vessel attempted to leave the scene, one of the pangas aggressively swerved in front of the Farley Mowat, crashing directly into the hull of the former US Coast Guard Cutter. CCTV footage recorded on the bridge of the Farley Mowat captured images of the incident.
The panga split into two pieces, expelling its passengers into the sea. Crew and military personnel on board Sea Shepherd’s second vessel in the area, Sharpie, responded immediately, recovered the two men, who had been picked up by one of the other pangas involved in the attack, and brought them on board. Sea Shepherd’s Medical Officer, Corrine Perron, provided emergency first aid.
One assailant was not breathing when brought on board the conservation vessel. Sea Shepherd’s Medical Officer used the ship’s AED and administered immediate CPR and emergency oxygen. The second assailant has suspected broken ribs. Two medics from the Mexican Navy arrived at the scene and provided additional emergency care to the men.
As the medics continued to tend to the injured parties, two assailants illegally boarded the Sharpie, threatened its crew and the Mexican officials on board, and smashed the camera being used to document the emergency first response.
Assailants in nearby pangas threw projectiles and fuel at Sharpie, catching its bow on fire. Sharpie crew and military officials successfully put out the fire and removed the two men who had illegally boarded the ship. Sea Shepherd rushed the injured men to two nearby naval vessels, a defender and an interceptor, for follow-up medical treatment. They have since been airlifted to the hospital.
As Sharpie departed from the scene, the pangas continued to attack, launching additional Molotov cocktails at the vessel, setting the recovered fishing gear collected on the vessel’s aft-deck on fire. The crew and military personnel on board were able to extinguish the fire. On shore, assailants set fire to Sea Shepherd’s truck.
The Mexican Navy is investigating the incident.
This morning’s attack is the latest in a series of increasingly violent assaults launched against Sea Shepherd’s ships over the past month. Assailants have hurled Molotov cocktails, knives, hammers, flares, bottles of fuel, and other deadly projectiles at the vessels, crew, and military personnel on board. No serious injuries have occurred prior to today’s incident.
The conservation organization’s vessels have come under attack in the past while defending the habitat of the vaquita. In March 2020, a group of pangas swarmed Farley Mowat and Sharpie, launching rocks, lead weights, and other projectiles at the ships. One month prior, assailants opened fire at Sea Shepherd’s vessels. In 2019, Farley Mowat was illegally boarded and its hull set on fire.
The Vaquita Refuge is a UNESCO-recognized region in the Upper Gulf of California that is home to the world’s most endangered marine mammal – the vaquita. The endemic porpoise has experienced a rapid population decline over recent years due to entanglement in gillnets. There are fewer than 20 vaquitas left alive. Scientists believe the remaining vaquita population is concentrated in a high-priority zone of the Vaquita Refuge known as the Zero Tolerance Area.
Working closely with Mexican authorities, Sea Shepherd monitors the Vaquita Refuge to deter poaching and remove the illegal nets that threaten the survival of the species. This partnership has resulted in the retrieval of over 1,000 gillnets to-date.
Sea Shepherd Attacked in Vaquita Refuge on World Wildlife Day
(March 4, 2020) — This is not the first time Sea Shepherd has been attacked by poachers in the Vaquita Refuge. In February 2020, shots were fired at Sea Shepherd’s M/V Sharpie. In January 2019, Sea Shepherd vessel the M/V Farley Mowat was attacked by a mob of over 50 skiffs, who hurled rocks and molotov cocktails at the ship, breaking its windows and setting its hull on fire. Also in January 2019, poachers illegally boarded the M/V Farley Mowat.
This recent attack took place on World Wildlife Day, a day of international celebration of the diversity of animal life on Earth.
“Today, on World Wildlife Day, I watched a young child throw lead weights at our ship during an attack,” said Sea Shepherd Captain Jacqueline Le Duc. “Witnessing this firsthand was extremely sad. Sea Shepherd is here to save a species on the brink of extinction so that future generations can continue to enjoy the biodiversity this area has to offer. We should be teaching younger generations the importance of the conservation of nature, not the exploitation of it.”
Illegal fishing is one of the biggest threats to the world’s oceans and is the reason the vaquita is facing imminent extinction. There are less than 20 vaquitas left alive, and gillnets are the primary threat to the survival of this species.
Poachers set gillnets in the area in an effort to catch totoaba, a protected species whose swim bladders sell for a high price on the Chinese black market. Vaquitas fall victim to these nets and are caught as bycatch.
Sea Shepherd has been working with Mexican authorities for the past six years, removing the illegal gillnets that threaten the survival of the vaquita and all marine life in the area. To date, over 1,000 pieces of illegal fishing gear have been removed from the Vaquita Refuge, directly saving the lives of over 4,000 animals.
Gunfire Erupts in the Habitat of the Most Endangered Marine Mammal in the World
San Felipe, BCN, Mexico – February 9, 2020 – While conducting routine monitoring in the Upper Gulf of California, Sea Shepherd vessel the M/V Sharpie encountered a group of four fishing skiffs in the Vaquita Refuge on the morning of February 8th.
At approximately 10:05 AM, the skiffs (known locally as pangas) approached the Sharpie and began to chase the vessel at full speed, swerving in front of and around the ship. The captain of the Sharpie carried out anti-piracy procedures, including the use of water cannons and other anti-boarding techniques.
Mexican officials from Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente (PROFEPA), the federal police, and the Mexican navy were on board the Sharpie at the time of the incident.
The pursuit lasted for several minutes and at approximately 10:13 AM, several gunshots were heard. Surveillance cameras on board the Sharpie captured evidence of the attack. At least two shots, fired from the skiffs involved in the pursuit, landed in the water near the Sea Shepherd ship, which was not hit during the incident and no injuries occurred.
The confrontation took place in a section of the Vaquita Refuge known as the “critical zone” — a priority area for conservationists and the Mexican government, and the region in which several vaquitas were recently sighted. It is the same area in which Sea Shepherd discovered a dead vaquita trapped in a gillnet last March.
“This just shows how aggressive the poachers are here. It proves to us that they are armed and that we need to take every panga that we come across seriously, because we have no idea what they are capable of,” says Jacqueline Le Duc, Captain of Sea Shepherd vessel the M/V Sharpie.
The Vaquita Refuge is a federally protected and UNESCO recognized area in which gillnet fishing is banned.
Gillnets are the primary threat to the vaquita, an endemic species whose numbers have plummeted to as few as 6-19 individuals. Poachers set the nets in an effort to catch totoaba, a protected species whose swim bladders sell for a high price on the Chinese black market.
This is not the first time that poachers have resorted to violence in the area. In January 2019, Sea Shepherd vessel the M/V Farley Mowat was attacked by a mob of over 50 skiffs, who hurled rocks and molotov cocktails at the ship, breaking its windows and setting its hull on fire. Earlier in that same month, poachers ambushed and illegally boarded the Farley Mowat.
Sea Shepherd has been working with Mexican authorities in the area for six years, removing the illegal nets that threaten the survival of the vaquita. To date, Sea Shepherd has retrieved more than 1,000 pieces of illegal fishing gear from the Upper Gulf of California, directly saving the lives of over 3,900 animals.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.