While patrolling for illegal nets in the northeast corner of the Gulf of California, just south of Santa Clara, the crew of the Farley Mowat spotted a strange shape on the beach. The small boat was dispatched to investigate and soon relayed their findings. Sadly, it was a dead humpback whale. It's exact position was 31 34.596' N, 114 18.982' W.
"As soon as we approached the body of the whale, it was evident that he probably died of something other than natural causes," said crew member Benjamin Sawicki, a biologist by training who led the examination. Not only were there abrasions across flippers and the tail, there was even a small piece of net hanging from a barnacle on the whale's nose. Photographs were taken of the various injuries, brought back to the ship, and shared with marine mammal scientists who agreed that there were clear signs of entanglement. The whale's location was reported to the Mexican authorities.
Sheila Hanney, Chief Cook on the Farley Mowat, felt "it was such a tragedy to see this young humpback who most likely died in fishing gear, just over a month after we saved an adult humpback from the very same fate."
This makes for two humpback whales and three vaquita dophin deaths since December 2015 that can be directly attributed to entanglement in fishing gear. "This latest death shows how important our work here is. We will continue patrolling and fighting side-by-side with the Mexican Navy and authorities to stop illegal fishing and better protect all species in the Gulf of California, especially the critically endangered vaquita," said Farley Mowat Captain Woody Henderson.
From across the Gulf of California, the citizens of San Felipe were saddened to see a different dead whale float past their boardwalk. It's still unclear where and why that whale died, but that's two dead whales discovered in one day.
The Farley Mowat first joined the sailing ship Martin Sheen on Operation Milagro II in mid January. Since then it has been crisscrossing the waters and removing any illegal fishing gear in its path, especially the illegal gill nets used to catch the endangered totoaba fish. Only the swim bladders are removed from the totoaba and then smuggled and sold in Asian markets. Not only is this trade dangerous for the totoaba, but many vaquita become unintended victims in these hidden nets. The goal of Operation Milagro II is to protect the few remaining vaquita who inhabit these waters.
all photos: Ognjen Milovic
Operation Milagro II
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