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By José Antonio Pérez
Patrolling through the vaquita marina refuge area in the Upper Gulf of California on April 22nd (Earth Day), the Sea Shepherd Farley Mowat ship, which is part of the Miracle IV operation, found and rescued a sea turtle trapped in an illegal gillnet.
Sea Shepherd members were conducting recovery operations on “ghost” nets, when an unknown mass appeared entangled within the net. After inspection, it was determined to be a large female leather back sea turtle that, while in critical condition, showed vital signs.
At first, the sea turtle was startled and quickly dove deep into the water, but when it resurfaced it remained calm long enough for the crew to cut the net tangled around its neck and shell. The sea turtle was then able to free itself from the rest of the netting around one of its fins.
It is worth noting that Sea Shepherd has two ships assigned to the Upper Gulf of California as part of the Miracle IV operation, a campaign to save the most endangered sea mammal in the world: the Vaquita Marina.
Vaquitas and other animals, such as the leatherback sea turtle, get stuck in fishing nets actually meant to trap the also critically endangered totoaba. The totoaba is targeted especially for its swim bladder, which is sold for up to 20 thousand dollars on the Asian black market due to its supposed medicinal properties.
The fight to protect two endangered species, the vaquita and totoaba, continues though yet other species are found to be at risk due to illegal fishing practices. This includes the leatherback sea turtle and hammerhead sharks.
According to the Sea Shephard website, in working with Mexican authorities, to date Sea Shepherd has eliminated 748 illegal gillnets in the Sea of Cortez since it began efforts to protect the vaquita in 2015, saving 2,926 animals in the process. This represents 62 miles of netting that has been eliminated, which is the distance from Earth to outer space, or the height of 7 Mount Everests.
Sea Shepherd works with members of its partnership network to guarantee illegal nets are recycled in a responsible manner and never find their way back to the sea.