Sea Shepherd and the Vaquita

During the first week of January I joined the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s (SSCS) Operation Milagro in the Sea of Cortez. Operation Milagro targets poachers who illegally set gill nets to catch totoaba, an endangered sea bass. In doing so a highly endangered porpoise, the vaquita, is often caught and drowned in the gill nets. The most recent population estimates for the vaquita place the number well below 100 individuals. The number of totoaba remaining is unknown. Our mission is to find the gill nets, pull them from the sea, destroy them and then hand them over to Mexican authorities.

Dead Totoaba pulled from an illegal net. Copyright: Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.
Dead Totoaba pulled from an illegal net. Copyright: Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.

Why do the local fishermen target the totoaba? Its swim bladder has purported medicinal and virility enhancement value and is sold for great profit in China.

While I can’t post the best video I’ve taken since Sea Shepherd will be using it in future videos of their own, here is a short video of interesting outtakes:

I am working on the SSCS ship named the Farley Mowat, named after the author who wrote Never Cry Wolf among other works. My primary role on the Farley is “drone pilot” and I am responsible for catching all the action from an aerial perspective not otherwise possible from the ship or a small rigid inflatable boat (RIB). My second role is that of deck crew. In this position I assist the other crew in taking aboard the illegal nets once we find them. This is difficult, back-breaking work as the nets are hundreds of meters long and are set in the shallow, current-filled northern Sea of Cortez waters by anchors that weigh nearly 150 lbs.

The anchors and bagged nets recovered in the span of two nights in the vaquita refuge. Copyright Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.
The anchors and bagged nets recovered in the span of two nights in the vaquita refuge. Copyright Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.

During my first few weeks aboard the ship we have found and destroyed over twenty illegal nets and the totoaba season is just beginning. We find the submerged nets by towing a “ray” behind the ship. The ray trails a grappling hook and is designed to skim along below the waters surface and snag the net. Once a net is snagged, a line purposely snaps and the ray and a set of marker buoys is let go into the sea. In this way we can turn the ship around and relocate the buoys, and thus the net.

The Farley Mowat crew investigates a dead whale, looking for signs of entanglement. Copyright: Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.
The Farley Mowat crew investigates a dead whale, looking for signs of entanglement. Copyright: Greg Joder/Sea Shepherd.

Catching up, moving forward

Mount Lemmon. Copyright: Greg Joder
Mount Lemmon. Copyright: Greg Joder

Yes, I’m still dealing with post-election depression, facing the fact that the president elect’s views and cabinet choices will do their best to destroy nature in return for profit. A lot of damage can be done in four years.  There is a lot of talk about de-regulation and fewer rules.  Given that the GOP will control all three branches, it’s a no-brainer that many important and functioning environmental rules and acts will be cut or debilitated.  Under the next GOP-led administration, say goodbye to the Endangered Species Act, clean air and clean water (EPA).  Not to mention back-peddling on women’s rights, equal pay, pro-choice and public schools.

I despised G. W. Bush, but the next administration promises to be much much worse.

I recognize that I may lose what little viewer-ship I have by stating my opinion here, but that’s OK by me.

For those of you that stick around, thank you!

Here’s the latest… Lot’s of action at the backyard waterhole:

And, chasing a train:

Boulder October

Backlit Aspen Leaf. Nederland, Colorado. Copyright: Greg Joder
Back-lit Aspen Leaf. Nederland, Colorado. Copyright: Greg Joder

I made a quick trip to Boulder, Colorado where I spent time with friends and exploring my old stomping grounds.  I rode my mountain bike through the ranch which is now Open Space.  This brought up feelings of joy, pain, loss and wonder…  The old sign still hangs at the entrance:

Joder Ranch Open Space. Copyright: Greg Joder.
Joder Ranch Open Space. Copyright: Greg Joder.

I also spent time up in Nederland, Colorado and was able to make an aerial flight over Barker Reservoir and the Town:

And there was new snow in the high country:

Mount Audubon. Copyright: Greg Joder.
Mount Audubon. Copyright: Greg Joder.