Behind the Comic: Sea of Shadows
Our webcomic about the plight of vaquita was inspired by the 2019 documentary Sea of Shadows. The National Geographic film is directed by Richard Ladkani, executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, and features the epic work and harrowing experiences of Earth League International's Andrea Crosta, crewmembers from Sea Shepherd, journalist Carlos Loret de Mola, scientists from VaquitaCPR, and local Mexican fishermen.
As of this posting, it is believed that there are no more than 15 total vaquitas left on Earth. Vaquitas only live in the Sea of Cortez where illegal fishing is killing off their species.
The particular type of poaching that is killing off vaquitas is motivated by greed and aided by government corruption fueled by powerful and dangerous cartels. It is not actually the vaquitas who are targeted by the illegal fishing, but rather another species: the endangered totoaba fish. The totoaba's swim bladder is wrongly believed by some practitioners of traditional medicine to have healing powers. Because of this false belief, totoaba swim bladders are trafficked to China where they are estimated to be "worth" $26,500USD per pound. Fishermen use gillnets to catch the totoaba fish, and in doing so also ensnare and kill vaquitas as well as other sea life who swim into the nets and become trapped.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Sea Shepherd features prominently in Sea of Shadows. Sea Shepherd members remove the gillnets from the water and save any wildlife that is still alive. Those aboard Sea Shepherd vessels live perilous lives while on duty and have even been shot at while trying to save the vaquita. For example, in the film, Sea Shepherd crewmember Jack Hutton's drone is compromised in a particularly harrowing sequence of events, and he has to take cover to maintain his own safety.
Another inspiring group, VaquitaCPR, plays a large role in Sea of Shadows as they try to find ways innovative to help protect the vaquita population. VaquitaCPR currently runs Project Esperanza which uses photo identification, acoustic monitoring, and remote tissue sampling to gather as much information about vaquita, which can be quite elusive, in order to better inform their rescue efforts. In the film, VaquitaCPR's marine mammal veterinarian Dr. Cynthia Smith of leads her team in better understanding how to save the species, which is a difficult feat, as vaquitas cannot be relocated to safer waters without compromising the porpoises' lives.
Earth League International
Over the course of the film, Andrea Crosta, the head of Earth League International, investigates totoaba swim bladder traffickers and — at the risk of his own safety — identifies the head of the illegal fishing and smuggling operations. In additional to matters related to the vaquita and the Sea of Cortez, Earth League International conducts additional conservation-related missions all over the world.
How You Can Help
Visit Sea of Shadow's Change.org petition and sign it to show your support of efforts to halt the extinction of the vaquita.
If purchasing seafood, be sure that it is sustainably caught.
See the Sea of Shadows film in theaters and encourage others to do so, too. Here is a list of current screenings.
Spread the word of those who are already helping the cause such as John Paul DeJoria of Paul Mitchell Salon products, Patron Spirits, and JP's Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation. You might not have known it, but John Paul DeJoria a longtime supporter of Sea Shepherd. In fact, in 2017, Sea Shepherd named a vessel named after him, the M/V John Paul DeJoria, which is currently helping victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas.
We hope that our comic inspires you to also spread the word about the vaquita. Please share this webcomic so more people can understand the urgent need to stop the vaquita's extinction. There are only 15 vaquitas left, but there is still time to save them — if we act together right now.