Whale rescued in Upper Gulf of California from illegal fishing net

By José Antonio Pérez

The environmental organization Sea Shepherd reported the Feb. 21st rescue of an injured humpback whale found tangled in an illegal fishing net used to capture totoaba in the Vaquita Marina refuge area of the Upper Gulf of California. The net was several hundred meters long and firmly wrapped around the whale, severely impeding the animal’s movement.

Although the whale was found alive, it was exhausted. The whale had several lesions on one of its pectoral fins as well as on its tail, requiring immediate assistance.

Two high-speed boats from the “Operation Milagro” Sea Shepherd fleet, Sharpie and Farley Mowat, were sent to assist rescue efforts coordinated by the Mexican Army (SEMAR) with support from the National Committee of Protected Natural Areas of Mexico (CONANP), the Secretary of Environmental Protection (PROFEPA), and Federal Police.

The emergency operation lasted several hours and rescue efforts continued until sundown. At approximately 6 pm the net was removed from the whale’s head and body, allowing it to dive but remnants of the net could still be seen on its tail until it disappeared.

Mexican authorities have alerted scientists and communities in the area about the whale’s delicate situation, so they are aware in case the whale resurfaces in need of emergency efforts.

The captain of the Farley Mowat ship, Octavio Carranza, said: “this whale entangling is another example of just how important it is to continue protecting the Vaquita refuge against illegal fishing practices, and is also a sad reminder of what the Vaquita faces every day in its struggle for survival.”

The Sea Shepherd environmental organization has been working with Mexican authorities for the past 6 years getting rid of illegal fishing nets that endanger the survival of the Vaquita and all sea life in the Upper Gulf of California.

To date, more than 1 thousand illegal fishing nets have been removed from the Vaquita refuge, saving more than 4 thousand animals, 137 species of which are in danger of becoming extinct.

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