Sea Shepherd has received a generous vessel donation from philanthropist Benoit Vulliet which will enable the marine conservation group to be more effective in their fight to save the most endangered marine mammal in the world, Mexico’s critically endangered vaquita porpoise.
The newest anti-poaching vessel in Neptune’s Navy, as the organization’s fleet is known, is former U.S. Coast Guard Buoy Tender White Holly. The organization also operates three former U.S. Coast Guard Island Class Cutters currently engaged in marine conservation and anti-poaching operations.
White Holly was built at Basalt Ship Building in 1944 and served in World War II in Pearl Harbor delivering ammunition to naval vessels. She was acquired by the Coast Guard in 1946 and served until the seventies protecting the Alaskan coastline. The vessel was later transferred to Mississippi as a Buoy Tender to restore aids to navigation damaged by hurricanes until her retirement from the Coast Guard in 1998.
Benoit Vulliet acquired the White Holly for oceanographic research. Due to a busy schedule and living in Europe, Mr. Vulliet found it difficult to continue managing the vessel, deciding to donate her to Sea Shepherd for a continued life of service, this time to protect marine wildlife and habitat.
“I know that this boat will do a good job with Sea Shepherd,” said Mr. Vulliet. “I am very happy to be now a part of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society”.
The vessel’s first new mission as part of the Sea Shepherd fleet will be joining Operation Milagro V in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. The campaign aims to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise. Vaquitas are endangered because of gillnet poaching, mostly meant to catch the totoaba fish. Like the vaquita, the totoaba is endemic to the Sea of Cortez and critically endangered. The fish are being heavily targeted for their swim bladders, which are illegally sold for exorbitant amounts of money in Asian black markets. It is said that a totoaba bladder can fetch up to $20,000 USD in China.
“Coast Guard Buoy tenders have low freeboard and large working decks, just what our dedicated volunteers crew members need to pull illegal nets efficiently from the sea. The ship is also very fuel efficient, which means we will be able to stay at sea for longer periods while ridding the vaquita refuge of illegal gillnets,” said Sea Shepherd’s founder and CEO Captain Paul Watson. Acoustic monitoring estimates from 2015 showed that less than 30 vaquita were still alive. This data triggered varied reactions from the scientific and conservation community including the notion that trying to save the vaquita porpoise is a lost cause.
“It’s always been my opinion, that the only causes really worth fighting for are lost causes,” said Watson. “It’s incredible how many times Sea Shepherd has pulled through, and lost causes have turned into victories. As a matter of fact, we believe the vaquita would not still be here if Sea Shepherd had not had the initiative to start removing nets from the vaquita habitat, working with Mexican authorities.” He concluded, “Sea Shepherd’s effort of removing gillnets from the vaquita habitat, so far has been the only proven effective method to save the porpoise.”
Sea Shepherd’s M/V White Holly will undertake major refit work in Fernandina Beach, Florida. The crew received a warm visit from Mayor Johnny Miller to welcome the ship to the community, which has been very supportive of Sea Shepherd’s work and mission. The vessel is scheduled to depart in December for Mexico by way of the Panama Canal.