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The Vaquita’s SOS Call

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The Vaquita’s SOS Call

An on-stage Q&A featuring the production crew of Sea of Shadows.

An on-stage Q&A featuring the production crew of Sea of Shadows.

Steve Haslam

An on-stage Q&A featuring the production crew of Sea of Shadows.

Steve Haslam

Steve Haslam

An on-stage Q&A featuring the production crew of Sea of Shadows.

Rachael Schafer, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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The Grizzly Growl and CHTV News had the special opportunity to attend Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake on January 31, 2019, and to attend this year’s Audience Pick for Best International Documentary, Sea of Shadows. The film sheds light on what is currently happening in the Sea of Cortez and the illegal poaching of the totoaba. Students got the chance to do a Q and A after the production with people such as, Cynthia Smith (program manager of Vaquita CPR), Jack Hutton (drone pilot for the Sea Shepherd Conservation), Andrea Crosta (Executive Director and Co-founder of the Elephant Action League), and Director Richard Ladkani.

The film consisted of several subplots, all which were brilliantly intertwined by Ladkani to create the film. Each of these plots featured a separate organization affected by or trying to stop the extinction of the vaquita.

The Elephant Action League ran an investigation called, “Operation Fake Gold,” examining the trade of the totoaba bladder.  In this 14-month investigation it was discovered that ‘totoaba cartels’ were trading and selling their product overseas to buyers in China. During this time they were able to unmask and capture three men who were involved with the trading business. They also made the discovery that the totoaba bladder was in fact, more valuable than gold. After the travel of a single bladder, the cost equaled $20,000 to $80,000 USD. Their journey was captured by the team working on the Sea of Shadows film. Their effort continues today as they work to dismantle the totoaba trade and those involved.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a team of volunteers who work with a different arsenal of weapons. Their main weapon is the drones that they use. These drones are constantly scouring the Sea of Cortez in search of illegal poachers. When poachers see the drones they usually cast their nets back into the sea and Sea Shepherd volunteers then take them out and release the animals from the nets. To date, the SSCS has removed over 800 nets.

The Vaquita CPR program was designed to remove the Vaquita from their environment until their natural habitat was once again safe and livable. However, the Vaquita did not respond well to being in human care, and the program was halted. Even still, they are fighting to preserve the lives of the small porpoise. No one is certain why the Vaquita didn’t respond to the temporary containment, but it has been an eye-opener for marine biologists and veterinarians all around the world.

Further elaborating on this, Cynthia Smith, marine veterinarian and program manager of the Vaquita CPR program said, “The Vaquita represents this really important part of the ecosystem, and that if we lose one little creature that’s part of a bigger whole and things just start collapsing…When we lose a species like the vaquita who is so important to the whole of the Sea of Cortez it’s just a domino effect.” The vaquita is much more than a dying species, but it is the species that marks a significant change for better or for worse.

Even still, Smith remains optimistic of species’ survival. She said, “The process starts right here, it starts with all of you guys and the general public.” As students, the change happens now. We are in the midst of the sixth great extinction and if we don’t become aware of the needs of our planet, animal life and the quality of human life will continue to deteriorate.

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