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Paul Allen pictured in 2014. Courtesy of Vulcan Inc. / Beatrice de Gea

The world lost an important environmental icon on Monday with the passing of Paul G. Allen. He died from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in Seattle, according to his company Vulcan Inc. He was 65.

Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with his childhood friend Bill Gates and owned the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, was also a major philanthropist devoted to making the world a better place.

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What caused Kelly Slater to so radically change his views about sharks?

Or perhaps he did not change his views after all.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A controversial, last-ditch plan to round up the last remaining vaquitas—a critically endangered porpoise found only in the Sea of Cortez—may get underway this spring with the aid of U.S. Navy-trained bottlenose dolphins. The vaquitas would be placed in a protected enclosure while efforts are made to get illegal fishing in the area under control.

The population of these small porpoises has reached the point where they face imminent extinction. A report by marine conservationists issued in May 2016 estimated that less than 60 vaquitas remain.

Their numbers have dropped dramatically in the last 20 years. There were 567 individuals in 1997, 245 in 2008 and just under 100 in 2014. The report puts a high probability on extinction within five years.

Vaquita refuge established in 2005 where gillnet fishing is prohibited.National Geographic

The Mexican government has been working with local fishermen to save the species. In 2005, Mexico established a refuge off San Felipe in the Gulf of California. Gillnet fishing was banned in the refuge. The government is spending $74 million to compensate fishermen and encourage them to use safer fishing methods.

For a time, it worked. Although the population continued to decline, it did so at a slower rate. Scientists hoped it would soon turn around and begin to recover.

But they didn't count on China.

The country's newly-minted millionaires stimulated a demand for dried fish bladders. Called fish maw, they are alleged to possess medicinal properties including the ability to increase fertility. The source of those fish bladders: the Mexican totoaba, a critically endangered fish found in the same waters as the vaquita.

Totoaba bladders are worth up to $5,000 per kilogram and can command as much as $100,000 on the black market in China, according to a 2016 report by the Environmental Investigation Agency. They can be found at retailers in major Chinese cities as well as online sites such as Alibaba. Poachers often take their boats out at night, and use gillnets under the cover of darkness to round up as many totoaba as they can. The vaquita are merely bycatch, caught up in the nets where they often drown or die from stress.

Fish maw wholesaler in Shantou, China (c) EIAEnvironmental Investigation Agency

Details of the plan to save the vaquita are still being worked out.

Plans may involve using dolphins from the Navy Marine Mammal Program, which has studied, trained and deployed these highly intelligent animals since the 1950s. Dolphins would be used to help locate vaquitas. They would then be coaxed into lightweight surface gillnets. It's never been done before with vaquitas, but harbor porpoises in Greenland have been captured safely in a similar manner.

Nanuq was held captive at SeaWorld properties. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society / Nicolas Dumenil

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society launched a series of images today illustrating the tragic fates met by real-life captive cetaceans.

The images come just as the holiday season begins and families are making choices about how to spend their money on entertainment. The pictures are being published to educate and deter travelers around the world from buying tickets to marine shows, swim-with-dolphin programs and other similar animal encounter experiences.

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You can always expect to see Captain Paul Watson on the front lines of the battle to conserve and protect marine ecosystems for wildlife. He and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have been doing it for nearly 40 years.

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Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

The Sea Shepherd crew has intercepted the Japanese whaling fleet on Christmas Day, a thousand miles north of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

The Sea Shepherd ship, Steve Irwin, deployed a drone to successfully locate and photograph the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru on Dec. 24. Once the pursuit began, three Japanese harpoon/security ships moved in on the Steve Irwin to shield the Nisshin Maru to allow it to escape. This time however the Japanese tactic of tailing the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker will not work because the drones, one on the Steve Irwin and the other on the Bob Barker, can track and follow the Nisshin Maru and can relay the positions back to the Sea Shepherd ships.

“We can cover hundreds of miles with these drones and they have proven to be valuable assets for this campaign,” said Captain Paul Watson on board the Steve Irwin. The drone named Nicole Montecalvo was donated to the Steve Irwin by Bayshore Recycling of New Jersey, and Moran Office of Maritime and Port Security, also of New Jersey.

Captain Watson having received reports from fishermen when the Japanese ship passed through the Lombok Strait waited south of the strait at a distance of 500 miles off the southwest coast of Western Australia. Sea Shepherd caught the whalers at 37 degrees South, far above the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

“The chase is on for the next 1,000 miles,” said Quartermaster Eleanor Lister of Jersey (U.K.)

With the Steve Irwin taking up the resources of three of the Japanese ships, the Bob Barker remains clear of a tail and the Brigitte Bardot is clear to scout out the factory ship, having superior speed to the harpoon vessels.

The Sea Shepherd crew have found the Japanese whaling fleet before a single whale has been killed.

“This is going to be a long hard pursuit from here to the coast of Antarctica,” said Captain Watson. “But thanks to these drones, we now have an advantage we have never had before—eyes in the sky.”

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Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is an international non-profit conservation organization whose mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately balanced oceanic ecosystems, Sea Shepherd works to ensure their survival for future generations. Founder and President Captain Paul Watson, is a world renowned, respected leader in environmental issues.

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