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Mexican Government Stands in Solidarity With Sea Shepherd to Save Nearly Extinct Vaquita

Thanks to a swift response by the Mexican government, a potentially dangerous confrontation by hostile fisherman towards Sea Shepherd was averted on March 30.

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Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Fast and Furious Star Joins Sea Shepherd to Show Impact of Climate Change on Baby Seals

A Sea Shepherd team flew over the Gulf of St. Lawrence last week documenting an ecological disaster that very few people want to talk about—especially those in the Canadian government.

It has been 40 years to the month that French actress Brigitte Bardot first went to the ice floes in Canada to focus attention on the slaughter of baby seals at the behest of Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson.

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Watch Sea Shepherd Ship Sail with Megapod of Dolphins

On Feb. 25, while patrolling the waters of the Gulf of California for Operation Milagro III, the M/V Sam Simon sailed through a megapod of dolphins with numbers estimated to be more than 1,000 individuals.

The elation and joy of this sight comes with the realization that many of these dolphins' lives will be cut short due to illegal gill nets. Sea Shepherd will stay in the Gulf of California until we pull out every last illegal gill net, ensuring the safety of the inhabitants who call these waters home.

Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

66 Totoaba Found Dead in a Single Net, Dead Newborn Vaquita Washes Ashore

With the near-extinct vaquita porpoise now numbering less than 30, conservation was dealt a blow on March 12, when Sea Shepherd found a dead newborn vaquita on the beach just 33 km south of San Felipe, in the Northern area of the Gulf of California.

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A shark fin worker dries shark fins on the street in Hong Kong. Photo credit: Gary Stokes / Sea Shepherd Global

Sea Shepherd Uncovers Huge Shipments of Shark Fins

Despite a worldwide ban on the transportation of shark fins by major shipping carriers, a three-month investigation by Sea Shepherd Global—as part of their global shark defense campaign Operation Apex Harmony—has verified that large shipments of shark fin are still arriving in Hong Kong on airlines and shipping lines that have made "No Shark Fin" carriage ban commitments.

Sharks are in big trouble around the world, with some populations crashing by more than 90 percent. Some species, such as the hammerhead shark, are facing a very real threat of extinction.

A growing consortium of major shipping lines, airlines and non-governmental organization's met with senior members of Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department and Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department last Friday to brief them on the Sea Shepherd Global investigation findings and discuss matters relating to wildlife crime. Top of the agenda was how to prevent products from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species—listed endangered species from being unknowingly shipped. These included many types of vulnerable and endangered shark fin found in the Hong Kong shark fin trade, such as hammerhead shark and oceanic whitetip shark.

A History of the Shark Fin Transport Bans

Since 2010, international wildlife conservation groups have been focusing on the shark fin supply chain by lobbying both airlines and shipping lines to ban the transport of shark fins and shark products. Yet the laundering of fins taken from illegal species of sharks inside consignments of fins from legal yet unsustainably-fished shark species is still rife. To their credit, Maersk, the world's largest shipping line, led the way as the first company to implement a worldwide ban on shark fin carriage in 2010, with 16 of the world's leading container shipping lines soon following their example.

"Maersk Line is committed to enforcing our policy not to carry sharks fin products on our ships. It is frustrating that some traders seemingly mis-declare the cargo they intend to ship with us in order to try to get around the restrictions we have put in place. However, we are grateful to Sea Shepherd for their investigative work to highlight this problem and we are working with Sea Shepherd and other NGOs as well as with HK Customs and other stakeholders to tighten our procedures to ensure the ban we place on carriage of shark fin is effective in the future," said Tim Smith, chairman and chief representative of the North Asia region, Maersk.

A shark fin worker unloading one of the 45 foot Maersk containers in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.Gary Stokes / Sea Shepherd Global

Around 92 percent of shark fins entering Hong Kong arrive via sea freight, while the remaining 8 percent arrive via air cargo. Having worked with a number of locally and internationally respected conservation specialists since 2010, the Hong Kong-based carrier Cathay Pacific became the first airline to place an initial ban on un-sustainable shark and shark products, including shark's fin, in September 2012, extending to a full ban on shark's fin in June 2016.

"As a signatory to the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce Buckingham Palace Declaration, Cathay Pacific is committed to not knowingly facilitate or tolerate the carriage of illegal wildlife products. This is an important initiative by Sea Shepherd and we will support it as much as we can to close out any loopholes that affect the effectiveness of our embargo policies," said Evelyn Chan, head of Environmental Affairs at Cathay Pacific Airways.

The airlines campaign was led by Alex Hofford, now of WildAid Hong Kong and supported by around 30 global marine conservation and animal welfare groups, including Sea Shepherd and the World Wildlife Fund.

Evidence the Ban Hasn't Been Working

As with most environmental issues, the first challenge is to change the rules. But the second and much harder challenge is to enforce those rules. Despite recent media claims that the trade is down overall, Sea Shepherd Global began its investigation after seeing evidence of large shipments of shark fins arriving in Hong Kong's Sheung Wan district. "The months leading up to Chinese New Year are always the busiest months for the shark fin traders as they seek to fulfill the demand of the mainland Chinese market during the festive holiday," said Gary Stokes, Sea Shepherd Global's South East Asia director.

Unloading a delivery of shark fins that were carried unknowingly by Maersk who have a "No Shark Fin Ban."Gary Stokes / Sea Shepherd Global

The three-month long investigation documented large shipments arriving by carriers who have pledged to ban the transport of shark fins, including two 45-foot containers full of shark fins from the Middle East which arrived in Maersk containers. An airfreight shipment on Virgin Australia Cargo and Cathay Pacific which had been falsely declared as "fish products" was not identified by customs. The exporter who attempted to transport these goods has now been blacklisted by Virgin Australia Cargo which has a ban on the transportation of shark fins. The problem that companies such as Virgin, Maersk and Cathay Pacific are now facing is that shark fin traders are abusing the system by fraudulently mis-declaring and mis-labeling shark fin under generic categories such as "seafood," "dried seafood," "dried goods" or "dried marine products" to avoid detection.

"It's so sad what the team at Sea Shepherd has managed to discover. Thousands and thousands of sharks slaughtered just for their fins to be turned into bowls of soup. For those people who have knowingly participated they need to hang their heads in shame. For Sea Shepherd and the team led by Gary Stokes, they need to be congratulated for exposing this foul and sometimes illegal trade," said Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group.

"Well over thirty airlines and just under twenty container shipping lines now operate No Shark Fin cargo bans. Yet some airlines, such and Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airlines, are resisting industry best practice and are still propping up the crime-ridden shark fin trade. WildAid is calling on all passenger airlines, cargo airlines, container shipping lines as well as express parcel carriers such as FedEx and TNT, to act sustainably, ethically—and above all legally—by ruling out dirty shark fin shipments from their cargo holds," said Alex Hofford, of WildAid.

Working Together to Close the Loopholes

Presented with the evidence, Maersk, Cathay Pacific and Virgin are now working in close collaboration with Sea Shepherd Global and WildAid to close all remaining loopholes being exploited by the shark fin trade. "A full review is being undertaken of their booking procedures and alert mechanisms to help them enforce their bans," said Stokes.

Inside a shark fin warehouse in Hong Kong with a large shipment of sharks fins.Gary Stokes / Sea Shepherd Global

All international trade is monitored and facilitated by the World Customs Organization, which maintains a detailed list of Harmonized Shipping Codes (HS Codes). These are 6-digit codes (HK goes one step further by increasing to 8-digits) which can show, at a granular level, the exact contents of a cargo shipment. However HS Codes are right now only being used to track import/export data exclusively for statistical reasons, with trade declarations only being filed after a shipment has arrived. Sea Shepherd Global and WildAid are calling for the switching of Hong Kong's trade documentation filing requirement to be switched from post-shipment to pre-shipment. With the availability of pre-shipment information, Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department will be able to carry out more effective risk-profiling and hence more targeted enforcement work. Mandatory filing of full HS codes prior to port arrival would ensure that airlines and shipping lines can be more certain of the exact contents of cargo shipments. Such a system is already in place in the U.S. as an effective counter-terrorism measure. Spain also operates similar, more stringent, shipping procedures that can give customs the edge over the agile transnational wildlife crime syndicates. The Hong Kong government is also calling on the public and the business sector to support the availability of pre-shipment information to align with international mainstream and best customs practices, yet is facing stiff resistance from the trade.

Sea Shepherd Global has launched a full in-depth investigation into the global shark fin trade and its supply routes to provide a clearer picture to shipping companies for them to best tackle and enforce their commitments to environmentally sustainable shipping policies.

Gillnets Push Species to the Brink of Extinction

By Raffaella Tolicetti

With reproductive instincts pushing them towards the Colorado River Delta, thousands of corvina fish are currently swimming with the tide along the coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean. Making their way to the estuaries, where fresh water mixes with the saline components of the seas, these corvina are unaware that many of them will not even get the chance to lay their eggs in the very particular habitat they depend on to reproduce.

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First dead Antarctic minke whale to be documented since the ICJ ruling against Japanese whale poachers. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Global / Glenn Lockitch

Sea Shepherd Spots Dead Whale on Japanese Ship in Australian Sanctuary

After five weeks of patrolling the Southern Ocean, Sea Shepherd has located the Japanese whale poachers' factory whaling vessel in the Australian Whale Sanctuary with a dead minke whale on its flensing deck, the first to be documented since the International Court of Justice ruled against their whaling operations in the Antarctic in 2014.

Japanese whalers cover their crimes with a mock body bag.Sea Shepherd Global / Glenn Lockitch

The Nisshin Maru was spotted by the helicopter of Sea Shepherd's MY Steve Irwin at 12:34 a.m. GMT Sunday, at a position of 64 57.6S - 085 09.6E, within the Australian Whale Sanctuary. When the helicopter approached, the Nisshin Maru crew scrambled to hide the slaughtered whale with a tarp, while the fleet's harpoon ships Yushin Maru and Yushin Maru #2 quickly covered their harpoons.

"The whale killers from the Nisshin Maru were caught red-handed slaughtering whales in the Australian Whale sanctuary," said Captain Adam Meyerson of the Ocean Warrior, Sea Shepherd's newest Southern Ocean patrol ship. "The Steve Irwin has shut down their illegal operations and caught them trying to hide the evidence."

Crew of the Yushin Maru scramble to cover their harpoon.Sea Shepherd Global / Glenn Lockitch

These are the first photographs documenting the Japanese whaling fleet's killing of whales since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled their whaling program illegal in 2014 and the Australian Federal Court found the Japanese whaling industry in contempt for killing protected whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary. Sea Shepherd's discovery of the factory ship and the slaughtered whale comes just a day after Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Australia on an official state visit.

"The lack of action by the Turnbull government while whales are being killed in Australian waters just a day after Japan's Prime Minister was on a state visit in Australia shows that the government has no spine when it comes to protecting the wishes of Australians to defend the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary," Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said.

Protected Antarctic minke whale about to be dismembered on the deck of the factory whaling ship, Nisshin Maru.Sea Shepherd Global / Glenn Lockitch

Sea Shepherd's helicopter has relayed the whaling fleet's position to the MY Steve Irwin, now on an intercept course with the factory ship. No more whales will be killed today.

"The fact that the Japanese crew went to cover up their harpoons and the dead minke whale on deck just shows that they know what they're doing is wrong," said Captain Wyanda Lublink of the MY Steve Irwin. "They know they are in contempt of the ruling of the International Court of Justice and the Australian Federal Court. How can the Australian government ignore these actions when the majority of Australians condemn what they are doing?"

Poachers Arrested by Mexican Navy to Save the Nearly Extinct Vaquita

Six fishing boats engaged in illegal activities were spotted by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, ending in their arrest by the Mexican Navy.

On Dec. 12, Sea Shepherd's M/V Farley Mowat located poachers on radar before confirming their identities with binoculars. The six fishing boats were working together, using forbidden nets to catch the endangered totoaba bass inside a marine reserve in Mexico's Gulf of California.

"Sea Shepherd's partnership with the Mexican Navy is achieving results," Sea Shepherd founder and CEO Captain Paul Watson said. "Every poaching vessel intercepted and arrested is one step closer to preventing the extinction of the vaquita."

The totoaba is a rare fish native to the Gulf which can measure up to 6 feet in length and weigh as much as 220 lbs. Fishing for totoaba has been banned by the Mexican government since 1975, but it continues to be hunted by poachers solely for its swim bladder, which is sold on the black market in China for more than $20,000 per kilo.

When spotted by the Farley Mowat crew, the poachers began retrieving their nets as fast as they could, while others fled the scene immediately. The Farley Mowat tracked these boats, even while some of them tried to slow it down by maneuvering around the Sea Shepherd vessel.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Throughout the process, the Farley Mowat remained steadfast, following the poachers for about an hour until the Navy arrived. The poachers attempted to evade capture, giving up only when the Navy came at them with rifles drawn. No shots were fired.

"Without Sea Shepherd, the poachers would continue to destroy their own environment," said Farley Mowat Captain Sebastien Fau.

The Farley Mowat and the M/V Sam Simon are currently in the Gulf of California as part of Operation Milagro III to stop the imminent extinction of the endangered vaquita porpoise. Both ships are protecting the vaquita refuge and patrolling for poachers among other duties.

Known as the world's smallest and rarest marine mammal, the vaquita is facing a real threat of extinction. The most recent statistics show the population has dwindled to an estimated less than 60 individuals.

The biggest threat to the vaquita survival are the poachers using illegal gill nets to catch the totoaba. Vaquita often become entangled in the nets and are unable to reach the surface of the water to breathe, causing them to drown.

The arrested poachers were using shrimp nets—forbidden in the vaquita reserve since 2015—and totoaba nets, which are banned in Mexico.

While investigating the nets left by the fleeing fishermen, Farley Mowat found such live animals as sharks, rays, crabs and other fish trapped in the mesh. All were released.

"Our collaboration with the Mexican authorities in patrolling the area and retrieving nets is highly important to the safety of the vaquita refuge and marine reserve," campaign leader and director of Ship Operations Captain Oona Layolle said. "The more boats Sea Shepherd has in the area, the better we can guard against poaching. The vaquita needs all of our efforts now."

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