Captain Paul Watson Responds to the VaquitaCPR Release On the Death of a Vaquita

By NOAA Fisheries West Coast
VaquitaRIP Project The entire VaquitaCPR team is deeply saddened to report that during field operations to rescue the world’s most critically endangered marine mammal, a vaquita porpoise has died.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:

Dave Bader
dbader@lbaop.org
MEDIA ADVISORY

VaquitaCPR team: SAN FELIPE, BAJA, MEXICO -- The entire VaquitaCPR team is deeply saddened to report that during field operations to rescue the world’s most critically endangered marine mammal, a vaquita porpoise has died. With less than 30 vaquitas left on Earth, the entire rescue team is heartbroken by this devastating loss.

Captain Paul Watson: The entire Vaquita CPR team may indeed be deeply saddened but they can’t say they were not warned and if they continue this foolhardy plan, another Vaquita will die. This team just contributed to the possible extinction of this extremely rare endangered species. This project should be called Vaquita RIP and it is now a contributing factor the possibility of extinction.

VaquitaCPR team: Extreme precautions and significant planning have gone into every aspect of the VaquitaCPR rescue plan. VaquitaCPR assembled many of the most experienced marine mammal experts in the world to determine if human care could rescue them from extinction. No conservation project like this has ever been done before, and the operation comes with significant risk. However, scientists agreed that the risk of extinction in the wild was still far greater than the risk of rescue efforts.

Captain Paul Watson: We warned them that the animals were shy, elusive and easily stressed. The death of this Vaquita and the stress recently inflicted to a Vaquita calf has most likely stressed the entire remaining population. What scientists agreed that the risk was worth undertaking? From the looks of the supporters of the VaquitaCPR Project, the majority of the scientists are working within the captivity industry. There is a better and safer approach and that is the approach that Sea Shepherd is presently doing with the Operation Milagro Project and our approach is to physically defend the Vaquita Refuge from poachers.

VaquitaCPR team: A mature female vaquita, not pregnant or lactating, had been caught and transported successfully late in the afternoon on Saturday in the Northern Gulf of California and was taken to a specially-modified floating sea pen known as ElNido, or The Nest. From the moment of capture, the vaquita was under constant care and observation for its health and safety. Marine mammal veterinarians monitoring the vaquita's health noticed the animal's condition began to deteriorate and made the determination to release. The release attempt was unsuccessful and life saving measures were adminsitered. Despite the heroic efforts of the veterinary team, the vaquita did not survive.

Captain Paul Watson: How can they say that the Vaquita was ‘caught and transported successfully,’ when the Vaquita died within 24 hours. This is like saying ‘the operation was successful but the patient died.’ To describe this effort as ‘heroic’ is delusional. This Vaquita died because of the arrogance of this capture team.

VaquitaCPR team: Every member of the international rescue team is a leading expert in their field and deeply committed to saving the vaquita from imminent extinction. The rescue operation was considered a great hope for the continued existence of this rare and elusive porpoise which is at severe risk of extinction due to entanglement and drowning in gillnets in Mexico’s Gulf of California. Hundreds of vaquitas have been lost since 1997 despite significant efforts by the Mexican government to ban gillnet fishing throughout the vaquitas’ range and establish strong enforcement of conservation measures. Illegal gillnet fishing continues.

Captain Paul Watson: Most of these teammembers are employed in the captivity industry. If the problem is entanglement and drowning in gillnets, the solution is to remove and prevent gill nets from being deployed. Sea Shepherd has removed over 400 illegal nets while working with a minimal budget. With more funding, more nets could be removed and more interventions against poachers can be undertaken. Instead of funding being directed towards intervention against the real problem, this VaquitaCPR project is simply another lethal threat to the survival of the Vaquita.

VaquitaCPR team: With so few vaquitas left, this consortium of international conservation and animal care experts was assembled at the request of the Mexican government and scientific community to develop an unprecedented rescue and relocation operation that is widely recognized as the best hope for vaquitas' existence. The risk of losing a vaquita during field operations was always acknowledged as a possibility, but it was determined that it was unacceptable to stand by and watch the vaquita porpoise disappear without a heroic attempt at rescue.

Captain Paul Watson: The best hope for the prevention of the extinction of the Vaquita is enforcement and intervention. Sea Shepherd has never acknowledged that the death of a Vaquita was a possibility. We stated from the beginning that the project would 100% kill these animals from stress. What is unacceptable is that these ‘scientists’ are indeed standing by and refusing to support intervention. Calling themselves ‘heroic’ is arrogantly inaccurate. Heroic is confronting poachers and working long hard hours to remove illegal nets. There is nothing heroic about capturing and stressing these extremely shy marine mammals. The VaquitaCPR project is now very much a part of the threat to the survival of the Vaquita.

VaquitaCPR team: Vaquita Conservation, Rescue, and Recovery (VaquitaCPR) scientists in collaboration with an independent review panel established for this purpose and the Mexican government, will carefully review the events of the past 24 hours and determine how best to proceed. A necropsy has been performed and tissue samples have been collected to inform in this review.

Captain Paul Watson: Captivity scientists love their necropsies. This is one thing they are really good at because they do so many of them for all the animals that continuously die in captivity.

This ill conceived project must be shut down before another Vaquita dies.

VaquitaCPR team: Update information will be provided as it becomes available.

Captain Paul Watson: There are two ways this can go – abandon the project or the next update will be another death.

VaquitaCPR: VaquitaCPR is an international conservation program led by SEMARNAT in coordination with the National Marine Mammal Foundation, The Marine Mammal Center, and the Chicago Zoological Society. Key collaborators in Mexico include Instituto Nacional de Ecología and Climate Change (INECC), Asociación Mexicana de Hábitats para la Interacción y Protección de Mamíferos Marinos (AMHMAR), Museo de la Ballena, and Baja Aqua Farms. United States collaborators include Duke University and the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contributing technical support. World Wildlife Fund is contributing with acoustic monitoring and the retrieval of lost or abandoned “ghost” nets from vaquita habitat. European collaborators include Dolfinarium Harderwijk, Aarhus University, and Fjord&Baelt. Additional support and expertise has been offered from Dolphin Quest, SeaWorld, and the Vancouver Aquarium. VaquitaCPR operates as a private and public partnership, relying on both individual donors and government grants. VaquitaCPR has received generous financial support from the Mexican government, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Global Wildlife Conservation, Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums, Africam, International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association, Waitt Foundation, Disney Conservation Fund, YAQU PACHA, and the Firedoll Foundation. For information about the plan, visit http://www.nmmf.org/vaquitacpr-espanol.html

Captain Paul Watson: The VaquitaCPR Project refuses to acknowledge the net retrieval operations by Sea Shepherd or Sea Shepherd’s successful interventions against poachers. They act like Sea Shepherd does not exist and our ships have not actively been in the Vaquita Refuge for the last few years successfully removing

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