Sea Shepherd Drone Shot Down By Poachers
Ocean conservation group Sea Shepherd was surprised by gunfire on Christmas Eve resulting in a drone being shot down by poachers in the Gulf of California, Mexico.
The Sea Shepherd vessel M/V John Paul DeJoria is protecting the critically endangered vaquita porpoise and totoaba bass.
Captain Benoit Sandjian directed the Sea Shepherd crew to fly the night vision drone to investigate the targets. Three skiffs were moving through the gill net exclusion zone.
The poachers are targeting the critically endangered totoaba fish, in order to harvest their swim bladder. Much like shark fins, these bladders are sought for their alleged medicinal powers and sold on black markets in China and Hong Kong for tens of thousands of dollars. Poachers set gillnets to catch totoaba, but the nets catch everything in their path, including the most endangered marine mammal in the world – the elusive vaquita porpoise.
The conservationists’ drone had traveled approximately 2.8 nautical miles from the vessel and was hovering above a suspicious skiff, when thirteen gunshots were fired and instantly the drone’s monitor went dark.
“Our drone was shot down,” said drone operator Jack Hutton. “The poachers don’t want us looking at them, even if it means making use of automatic weapons.”
Sea Shepherd president and founder Captain Paul Watson has always maintained that the camera is the organization’s greatest weapon. It is no secret to poachers that the video drone is critical to Sea Shepherd in saving the vaquita porpoise from extinction by finding the location of illegal nets and recovering them.
The tension has been increasing in the fight to save the vaquita, which is endemic to the Gulf of California. Scientists estimate that there are less than 30 vaquitas in existence.
“People protect what they love.” –Jacques Yves Cousteau