Cownose RayCownose RayOn April 17th, 2017, the crew of M/V Farley Mowat retrieved a couple of illegal nets in Mexico’s Gulf of California where it is currently on campaign for Operation Milagro III.

“When you’re pulling up the net, you hope there is nothing in there,” said Josh, a volunteer deckhand on board the Farley.

There was little life in the first net: one cow nose ray, a couple of croakers and crabs. All were already dead. There was also the remaining spine of a totoaba.

The second illegal net had 22 cownose rays entangled inside. Twenty one of the rays were released alive but unfortunately one was already dead.

Illegal nets kill wild animals, and in the Gulf of California, this also includes the endangered totoaba bass and the near-extinct vaquita porpoise, who suffocate when they get entangled in them.  Illegal poachers set these banned gillnets hoping to trap the totoaba, whose bladders are sold on the black market in China and Hong Kong at around  $20,000 a kilo. The vaquita, similar in size to the totoaba, also gets caught in these nets. This illegal activity has caused the vaquita numbers to dwindle down to less than 30 individuals, putting the world’s tiniest porpoise on the brink of extinction.

“It’s really hard to see the animals the way they are, which is all cut up from the nets,” said Josh. “It’s a really slow and horrible way to die.”

Every life counts, and every net out of the waters is a success in protecting the biodiversity of the Gulf of California.

To see the video of the 21 rays being disentangled and released by Josh and the rest of the Farley Mowat crew, watch the video below.

All photos: Sea Shepherd / Debo Stoeckle

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