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Our WHALE Season 2019-2020 is over

We hope you are all fine and healthy, staying positive in these difficult times, which also allow us to reorganize and tune in for a new and better return. This whale season was a very busy one, with lots of whales and activities.  We hope you enjoy this summary with our most relevant activities. Thanks to all of you for your support!  We really appreciate your constant interest and help.  Thanks to you, we can proudly share these results!
RABEN to the rescue: 9 WHALES SUCCESSFULLY RELEASED 41% released & 23% not necessary = !64% SUCCESS¡
This was the season with more entanglement reports in Mexico by far, but also one of the most successful in our history.  We attended 24 reports, out of which 2 reports were taken care of by 2 different teams, meaning that one RABEN team started the rescue and the second team in a different location finished them.  Out of 22 entangled whales, we successfully rescued 9 and 5 whales didn´t need to be disentangled since the gear was not life-threatening and will fall on its own; we were unable to confirm 2 more cases, meaning that we didn´t find the whale and there were no photos or video, so we´ll never find out if the reports were true or false.  The rest of the whales that we couldn´t release was due to different factors like bad weather, we got the report too late in the day, the whale was very aggressive of evasive.  In summary, we had 64% SUCCESS in our operations and we saved at least 14 whales, which is an outstanding result. Out of 24 reports, 11 were in Banderas Bay, as every year, the busiest team of all our 10 RABEN teams.  There are several reasons for this, most of all it´s an indicator of humpbacks migratory routes and the importance of this region as a hot spot mating ground, it also reflects the entanglement problems and is also a result of our outreach efforts, because every year we have more trained eyes that know-how and where to report, don´t forget that RABEN has been working in Banderas Bay since 2004.  Also, this season we got lots of reports tru out WhatsApp available at our websites  www.rabenmexico.org and www.ecobac.org, another good tool at work!
Why were we so SUCCESSFULL? 
Help, help and more help!!  This year, particularly at Los Cabos and Banderas Bay, the local whale watching and sailing fleet got more involved and helped us by reporting, but also by staying with the whales until the RABEN rescue team arrived, believe it or not, is very hard to find an entangled whale.  Whales are indeed big, but the ocean is much bigger!!!
GOODBYE Surveillance and HELLO New Humpback Research!
With pride, we communicate that our 8-year program (2012-2019) “Prevention, Information, Monitoring and Surveillance of Humpback Whales in Banderas Bay” concluded. We accomplished our objective of promoting good navigation practices and the Mexican Whale Watching Regulation during whale season, avoiding boats crowding and whale harassment, as well as dangerous situations for persons. Our system worked so well that Bahia Unida nonprofit and PROFEPA Jalisco decided to adopt it and took over this season. This season we started a new “Humpback whale research program” with the main objective of studying changes in their distribution and temporality, and in order to do this, we did several outings before, during and after the whale watching season and also in the areas within the Bay when usually fewer whales are seen. This information will be very useful to promote conservation actions to protect this beloved specie.
Knowing for CARING!
As usual, in the past 12 years, we continued with our “I care for the whales” campaign and with the support of our great team of volunteers, we gave out flyers with the Mexican Whale Watching Regulations to boaters.  Marina Riviera Nayarit also participated by printing more flyers to have them available for all the boaters that visit them, big Thank you for them! We also placed banners announcing for navigation with caution and also banners with the Mexican Whale Watching regulation at Marina Puerto Vallarta, Marina Riviera Nayarit, Marina Nuevo Vallarta, Centro Marino Opequimar gas station and other piers and places of the Bay.  We are very grateful to Bahia Unida and Marina Nuevo Vallarta for sponsoring the printing of the banners so we could reach more persons.
We participated in 6 environmental education events, with conferences and documentary projections at Marina Riviera Nayarit at La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, including the premiere of our video Cases of Success 2019-2020.
CAMELS in the Bay?
Yes, we have one very special camel in the Bay, he is one of our favorite humpbacks.  His code is 4BB010 and he got the nickname of Camello in Mexico and Bactrian in the States, because of his peculiar dorsal fin, which resembles a dromedary.  We know him since 1999 and since then, he has never missed a Winter; we have heard him singing and seen him fighting, so we expect him to be the father of several calves by now.  His feeding ground is the area of Monterey Bay in California, where hopefully he´s already replenishing.  He´s just gone and we already miss him and of course looking forward to seeing him this next season so we can continue writing his story.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
It´s a pleasure to have to thank more persons, institutions, donors, volunteers, companies and foundations every year, adding to our efforts to learn, protect and preserve our natural resources.  It´s hard to mention everyone and I hope not to miss anybody. Thanks to our amazing team of volunteers: Frank, Azucena, Olivia, Paulina, Karina, Bárbara, Isabel, Katie, Monse & Abraham for their endless enthusiasm and support, without you we couldn´t have done all these activities. We are very thankful to 8a. Zona Naval de Puerto Vallarta, 6ª. Zona Naval de San Blas, 6ª. Región Naval de Manzanillo, PROFEPA, Bomberos & Protección Civil de Jalisco for their valuable participation and support for the RABEN rescues. We thank all the persons that reached out to promptly and efficiently reported whale entanglements, especially to the sailing fleet and whale watching tour operators that help us keeping track of entangled whales, particularly to Francisco Javier and Gustavo. It was very complicated to attend so many entanglement reports, mostly if we consider that RABEN members are volunteers or do this activity as an additional task to their Jobs; nevertheless, RABEN teams had an outstanding response, so we thank ALL RABEN MEMBERS for their great work.  We also thank Opequimar Centro Marino for joining as a new RABEN member at the Banderas bay team. https://rabenmexico.org/miembros-y-donadores/ https://rabenmexico.org/en/membersa-donors/ Thanks to Jorge Morales y Faby Flores for our Success Cases 2019-2020 video, that by the way was a great success! Thanks to Maritime Traffic Control and Harbor Masters for their support with radio announcements to navigate carefully when whales were in heavy traffic areas. Our research surveys were done thanks to BIOMAR and Stanly W. Ekstrom Foundations funding and to Opequimar Centro Marino and Ecotours de México support. We deeply thank the donations by The Cape Thompson Hotel, Vinos Torres, Thalía Martinez, Katie Lavery Niekamp, Greg Pennington, Vicky McCann & Helga Baitenmann for our ECOBAC & RABEN projects. Thanks to Katrina Liana & Michael Danielson of PV Sailing for organizing conferences and events at Marina Riviera Nayarit for a second consecutive year, a great success! We also thank Yoga & Somatics and professor Ramiro that organized yoga classes with donations for RABEN and whale entanglements.  Ramiro planned everything for 4 Saturdays, but the actual situation forced us to cancel, but we´ll resume soon this great initiative.
To all and each one of you, we dedícate this newsletter.
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Every Winter 500 Humpback Whales visit Banderas Bay

Banderas Bay is one of the main congregation areas for Humpback Whales in the Mexican Pacific Ocean, visiting each season 500 individuals. This has led the Bay to be one of the main tourist sites for observation. This year, according to the official season of Whale watching started on December 8th, 2019 and will end on March 23, 2020, according to the notice issued in the Official Gazette of the Federation by SEMARNAT.

As always we recommend you to do whale watching activities only with the authorized vessels, which can be distinguished with the official flag.

If you have your own vessel REMEMBER to keep 800 ft (240m) away from the whale. Yo can consult and download the guidelines for whale whalewatching activities here: 

2,272 Different Whales identified
1996-2016

Our catalog FIBB has a database with more than 7,000 records of which 2,272 are unique whales. As always, we count on the valuable contributions of our collaborators, season after season, so we can continue expanding the catalog. In fact, every year we receive over 1,500 pictures of our collaborators, whereby it is a challenge to keep the catalog updated. Thanks to the support of Happywhale´s software we are moving forward rapidly and expect to be able to update until 2017 very soon.  


We thank all the collaborators of season 2018-2019: Biocean, Ecotours de México, Orca de Sayulita, Vallarta Adventures and  Vallarta Natours.

Collaborations with other catalogs, nationals, and internationals like HappyWhale allow us to obtain more information regarding the distribution and general state of our whales. ¡This year we had the great surprise that at least ten of our whales have been in Russia! As was the case of FIBB-4BB293, a whale that swam 5000 miles from Banderas Bay to Kamchatka, Russia.

48 Rescued Whales

To date, the Whale Disentanglement Network (RABEN) has received 123 reports of entangled whales, from which 48 whales have been successfully released (since 2004). Only last season (2018-2019) 23 reports were attended nationwide and this starting season 2019-2020 we recently had two more cases. Banderas Bay is still the leading team with the highest number of entangled whales, 43 cases attended (2004-2019).

ECOBAC, as RABEN´s coordinator nationwide, wants to thank all members for their invaluable help with this complex labor. We hope that all the rescues during this season are safe and successful! We can do this!

This is the reason why it is essential that all the teams are constantly training. On October 9th and 10th we had the “Whale Disentanglement Workshop” taught in Los Cabos, BCS where it was possible to train 26 people.
 
The Workshop was possible thanks to the support of the “Priority Species for Conservation Department” by CONANP, PROFEPA y WWF. 

The teams from Oaxaca (NOV 9th, 19), Banderas Bay (NOV 19th, 19 and DEC 10th,19) and Mazatlán (DEC 10th, 19) were not far behind and also carried out their respective practices and training. The better prepared we are, the greater the likelihood of having successful rescues!

¡THANK YOU!  COCKTAIL THE CAPE
This year we hotel The Cape organized a cocktail in Los Cabos, BCS October 24th for raising funds for RABEN. They made an excellent organization and diffusion job to raise funds for RABEN.
¡We thank hotel The Cape and Vinos Torres for this great support!
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND “I CARE FOR THE WHALES” CAMPAIGN
Environmental education and “spreading the word” is very important to preserve the whales and our seas, that’s why we share some of the activities we did this last semester.
 
First Rescued Whale this Season
Saturday, December 14th, our team RABEN Los Cabos released the first whale this season. It was a juvenile of approximately 8mts that was completely entangled in a gill or chinchorro net. After 6 long hours of maneuvering, this whale was released free of charge. We thank Pelagic for the support following the whale until the arrival of the RABEN team. We need your support, so RABEN can keep up rescuing entangled whales in Mexico.

This season we will greatly appreciate any contribution either donation or in kind, as the number of cases we attend is growing…

DONATE TO ECOBAC

Thank you very much! We invite you to the events that we will soon have and will be publishing on our FB page. Stay-tuned 😉

Happy whale watching season 2020!

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SUCCESSES RESCUING GIANTS

This whale season is not over yet, but it has been one of the most complicated but at the same time successful seasons for the teams of RABEN, The Whale Disentanglement Network. We have rescued 8 whales nationwide and at the time of writing this newsletter, our RABEN Manzanillo team is in action looking for a whale…         Two of the successful RABEN rescues, winter season 2020: A) Entangled mother, case shared between San Blas/ Banderas Bay teams, released on Dec. 26, 19; B) Entangled calf attended on 5FEB20 in Banderas Bay. We are receiving more reports than in previous years, but it is probably because people already know how to report, our WhatsApp icon on the websites www.ecobac.org y www.rabenmexico.org is giving very good results.         The new WhatsApp icon allows you to communicate at the moment to report an entangled whale with the RABEN team. We share our new VIDEO with the success stories of this season, we know that this is not over yet and we are all ready for when the whales need us again. New RABEN Video – Success cases 2019 – 2020 These successes would not be possible without the valuable support of the people who take the time to report properly, even more with the people who help us to relocate the whales or not lose sight of them. The best example is the rescue case on 22DIC19, where an authorized whale watching tour operator in Punta Mita found and REPORTED the entangled whale, waiting for the first relay to arrive, which was the park ranger of the Marietas Islands National Park. Then came the second relay with another whale watching tour operator of Punta Mita that took one of the RABEN team members to the site. Finally, 1 hour and 30 minutes later, the rescue boat and the rest of the RABEN team arrived. Since the whale was outside the Bay and it was late we requested support from the 8th. Navy Zone, which assisted us with a boat and personnel of the Captaincy of Puerto de la Cruz de Huanacaxtle. We only had 2 hours of light to perform the maneuvers and without all this support, that time would have gone away in trying to relocate to the whale. So the moral is that thanks to the effort and support of everyone, RABEN can succeed and we all can save the whales.             RABEN works through donations and volunteers who give their time and money, so your contributions are very important! Thank you so much! DONATE HERE As we talked about in our last newsletter, each rescue costs an average of $500 American dollars and in one of the rescues, we lost an extension knife and adapter with an approximate cost of $250 dollars. The tools we use are very specialized because they are designed not to hurt the whales and make quick and efficient cuts. Do you want to do an in-kind donation? We need knives like this one:
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Rescuing Whales, Dec 2019

Did you know that rescuing a Whale can cost around 500 dollars?

Humpback Whale Season just started this December but also the work of the National Network of Assistance to Entangled Whales, RABEN. So far this season there have been 3 successful rescue events:

1) December 14th: RABEN team Los Cabos released a juvenile humpback whale that was completely entangled with a gill net.

2) ) December 22nd: RABEN team Banderas Bay released a female Humpback Whale with a gill net in her rostrum. the female was with her calf, which was estimated to be only a few weeks old.

3) December 24th and 26th: RABEN teams San Blas and Banderas Bay attend the report of a female Humback Whale, also with a gill net in her rostrum and dragging more than 300 ft of the net.This female also had a calf with her. Team RABEN San Blas started rescuing efforts on the day of Christmas Eve. Nevertheless, due to the behavior of the female and the difficulty and risk that represents releasing a whale with a calf, they couldn´t release her completely. As usually happens in these situations, the other close RABEN teams were alerted and finally the whale appeared at Puerto Vallarta on December 26th where the Team Banderas Bay concluded successfully the rescuing efforts.

This is a good example of how our RABEN team network operates!

Both ECOBAC (RABEN´s National Coordination) and all RABEN members normally keep a low profile and avoid social networks and the press in general, since we do this work selflessly and in order to help these wonderful cetaceans. However, the rescue of December 26th was carried out very close to the coast so there was no way to go unnoticed, as we normally do. We gave several interviews and we gladly share the link to the documentary made by Televisa.

Televisa interview with RABEN

In all three rescues RABEN members, which are trained for these risky maneuvers participated. We thank all RABEN members, not only those who participated in these rescues since all 180 members of the 15 RABEN teams are ready and in the best disposition for when the whales require their help.

We also want to especially thank the tour operators that helped us by not losing sight of the entangled whales meanwhile RABEN´s vessels arrived at the rescue. We thank the Secretaría Armada de México (SEMAR), Capitanía de Puerto, Civil Protection and Puerto Vallarta´s firefighters, PROFEPA delegations Jalisco and Baja California Sur, the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) and Opequimar Centro Marino.

If this year you want to support us please do so with a donation, since the tools we use and rescues are very expensive.
Thank you!

DONATE HERE

Participants of the 3 RABEN Rescues

Banderas Bay:
8ª. Zona Naval
Capitanía de Puerto de la Cruz de Huanacaxtle
CONANP
Protección Civil y Bomberos de Puerto Vallarta
PROFEPA Delegación Jalisco
ECOBAC
Ecotours de México
Explora Vallarta
Vallarta Adventures
Dolphin Adventure

Los Cabos:
PROFEPA Delegación Baja California Sur
Juan Alonso Montaño
Cabo Trek
CONANP

San Blas:
CONANP
6ª. Zona Naval de San Blas

Visit RABEN

¡Thank you for helping us rescue WHALES!

ECOBAC wishes you a very Happy New Year!

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When whale rescues become viral for the wrong reasons

It is increasingly common to find videos on social networks of members of the public who disentangle whales and other marine life. These videos have all the elements of an amazing story: danger, courage and, hopefully, success. However, in the Whale Disentanglement Network (RABEN, by its initials in Spanish), we never share these videos, and for good reason: While the stories are convincing, the unintended consequences of these actions can be devastating and could cause death.
Even though, we do not doubt the good intention of doing the right thing and saving the whales, there is much more at stake than the life of the only whale that inspires someone to act. We know how heartbreaking it is to discover a whale entangled in fishing gear, however, we are very concerned when we see videos of people who have not been trained to perform disentanglement operations for large whales carrying out this dangerous role. So far most of the stories have had a happy ending: a released whale, a hero without injuries and an increase in the public perception of this problem for whales.
However, we worry that we know that these actions can encourage others to do the same thing in order to help a whale. Whether they are motivated by a genuine passion for whales, the euphoria of risk or the hope of becoming the next Internet sensation, without knowing and considering all the risks that this implies.
These types of rescues happen without a plan and without training or authorization from the federal government. The difference between a rescue by trained people and well-meaning people, but without proper training and authorization can be a matter of life or death for the whale and for the potential rescuers.

WHALE
RABEN members performing maneuvers to rescue a humpback whale. The rescue was done on February 2018 and was successful.

In Mexico, RABEN has 180 trained members distributed within 15 teams in the Pacific Coast of Mexico and the Baja California Peninsula, they are the real heroes who rarely receive attention or appear in viral videos, but their work is to save lives, whale and human.
RABEN members make incredible sacrifices to do what they do. They dedicate their lives to save these whales when they become entangled in fishing gear that endangers their lives. The members of RABEN only face the challenge of risking their lives to save whales, after an intense training and learning process, which sometimes can take years to be completed. With NO salary, they are available 24/7 to respond to reports of entangled whales. To the sound of a text or the ring of a call, with full adrenaline rush, but aware that they must remain calm, they get ready with their equipment of tools and they go out to the sea in search of a wild whale scared and wounded, which does not know that they just want to help.
Doing this is amazing just by itself. Doing this day after day, without the need to publish it on social networks, and complying with the satisfaction of a job well done, makes them superheroes.
The devotion and passion can drive them, but their training and previous planning is what keeps them alive. An entangled whale can weight more than 40 tons and obviously is under a very high level of stress and probably also of pain. Untangling a whale can be lethal for both, the rescuer and the whale. Everyone has heard the successful stories of the whales that have helped during their rescue or have thanked the rescuer for setting them free, but the reality is not a fairy tale, a brief conversation with any member of the RABEN team, will kindly bring you back to reality: the whales are in pain, scared and will evade the rescue efforts, they react defensively, and sometimes, respond with a tail slap or pectoral slap, which can be lethal instantaneously for anyone who receives it. Each approach can upset even more a whale which is already stressed out, lowering moreover the probabilities of success.

WHALE

Entangled humpback whale. It was successfully released by RABEN members in 2016.
In comparison with what we see in the videos that have become viral and makes us feel good, the reality can also be tragic, like in the case of an entangled humpback whale which killed a diver of New Zealand in 2003, while trying to rescue it in the water.
Even the operations performed from a vessel can be potentially mortal. Last year, Joe Howlett, a trained and experienced Canadian rescuer, died during the rescue of a Right Whale, when the fluke of the whale hit the bow of the vessel. This shows us that even with proper training and experience, the risk for the rescuers is real.
Unfortunately, even the best intentions can threaten more whales than we can see. Both, Canadian and American governments suspended temporarily all the authorizations to rescue whales when Mr. Howlett lost his life. Even though the American government introduced gradually the authorizations in a matter of weeks, for Canada it took months to allow rescues again. During the suspension of activities, the whales continued entangled and the trained rescuers could not respond. If a member of the public died trying to rescue a whale, the rescuing operations could be suspended permanently, which would leave countless whales without being able to be rescued and leaving them to imminent death, since the trained teams wouldn´t be allowed to act either.

Even in the cases in which there is apparently a happy ending and it seemed like the life of a whale was saved, reality can be very different. Generally, in the entanglements there are difficult ties of ropes through the mouth of the whale or around a submerged pectoral fin, none of which is easy to sight from the surface. It is rare that only one rope going across the back of a whale will take a single cut to get rid of the gear. Without the right tools, gear or experience, a random single cut of a line could be tightened up or complicate even more other parts of the entanglement, enhancing the suffering of the whale and complicating the task of the real rescuers.

To attend reports of large whale entanglements requires a large community of Scientifics, teams expert in entanglement operations, whale observers, captains, fishermen, policy makers and members of the public. Each one has a role, but only the trained and authorized members of the teams of the Whale Disentanglement Network RABEN must perform the rescue actions of the whales.

Addressing reports of entanglement of large whales requires a large community of scientists, expert teams in entanglement maneuvers, whale watchers, captains, fishermen, policy makers and members of the public. Each one has its role, but only the trained and authorized members of the RABEN entanglement teams must perform the rescue maneuvers of the whales.
No need to risk your life or future whale rescues, you too can be a hero and help, this is what you can do:

* Contact the corresponding authorities:
-Natal Zone
-Capitanía de Puerto
-Maritime traffic
* Stop the boat.
* Maintain your distance, according to the guidelines of NOM-131-SEMARNAT-2010: 60mts authorized smaller vessels, 80mts authorized larger vessels or 240mts unauthorized vessels.
* Describe the problem:
Type of fishing gear: nets, buoys, ropes, etc.
In which part of the body of the whale is found
* Send a photo, it can be a photo of the camera screen or a video taken with the cell phone.
* Inform about the location of the whale, you can share your current location by WhatsApp or send satellite position (latitude / longitude).
* Stay in the boat, never get in the water to try to rescue the whale.
* Wait for the staff of RABEN, do not try to help the whale, by removing the lines or drag buoys you reduce the chances of releasing the animal from all nets and / or ends, which could cause more damage.
* Reports the heading of the copy.
*Stay in contact.
* Follow the whale at a safe distance.

Check the report that Televisa made about RABEN by clicking on the following link:
Televisa News Report RABEN
Join ECOBAC and RABEN in our fight to end large whale entanglements. Your donations can make the difference. Thank you very much!
Visit www.rabenmexico.org y www.ecobac.org

We thank Regina Asmutis-Silva de WDC https://us.whales.org

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Mexican Big Whale Disentanglement Network RABEN Video

Mexican Big Whale Disentanglement Network RABEN Video

 

We are proud to share with you our RABEN video, so you can learn how and what we do in order to rescue our beloved giants
We made a version with English subtitles for our English speaking friends.
Please feel free to share it.
Soon we´ll send you a newsletter with a summary of this past whale season.
As always, we are very grateful for your support! Muchas gracias!
RABEN National Coordination
ECOBAC
 

 

 

RABEN video with English subtitles

 

 

We thank Jorge Morales and Fabiola Flores for making this great video. 
We also thank Katie Lavery for reviewing the English subtitles

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Our Best Wishes for this 2018.

Newsletter, season 2017 – 2018

OUR BEST WISHES FOR THIS 2018.

 

 

The official whale watching season began on December 8, and Will end on March 23, 2018. Therefore, SEMARNAT (bureau of natural resources management) handed out the permits and the flags (grey this year), which will have to be onboard and visible by all those boats providing with Whale watching activities.
So far, this season, many whales have been sighted in the Bay, whichhavebeen very active and distributed throughout the Bay. Reason why we are very happy and eager to continue working.

 

ENSURING THE PERMANENCE OF THE WHALES.

For this season, we are looking to obtain funds to carry out the Program of Prevention, Information, Monitoring and Surveillance of Humpback Whales in the Bay of Banderas.
This program has been operating for 6years, and has obtained excellent results, which you can consult in end of season bulletins, available on our website http://www.ecobac.org/boletines/. In summary, the harassment of whales caused by boat agglomerations has diminished considerably and the number of boats without permits has also decreased. We believe that it is essential to continue with the program. This because within the bay there are many private vessels that do whale watching, ignoring the applicable regulations, therefore leading to whale harassment and interruption of their behaviour and cycle.
The program has been carried out for 6 years, this was possible thanks to being able to gather funds from various institutions such as the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP), Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States and Punta de Mita Foundation. However, for this season we are raising funds through donations or sponsorship to cover for one or more outings. The requested contribution is approximately $ 3,000 pesos (depending on the price of gasoline), and as you will see in the following accounting summaries, the requested contribution is minimal, especially if you consider all the benefits it represents and the contributions made by ECOBAC and OPEQUIMAR Marine Center, and the invaluable support of the volunteers.

 

 

 

So far, we have received funding for 5 outings, which will be distributed along the month of January. If you,friend of ECOBAC, wish to collaborate with this program or have an acquaintance who would like to donate, please get in touch with us through here or our website www.ecobac.org, you can also look for us on Facebook as “Ecología y Conservación de Ballenas A.C.”, or send an email to ecobac.org@gmail.com or by phone (322) 2937851, where we will gladly assist you and we will give you more information about it.

 

 

DURING WHALE SEASON IT´S IMPORTANT TO NAVIGATE WITH CAUTION

In the winter season, whales and tourist visit Banderas Bay.  As we all know whales come to mate and to calf and being high tourist season the amount ofboats in our beautiful Bay increase considerably.  That´s why, one more time ECOBAC is working on the “Navigate with Caution” Campaign, inviting boaters to lower their speed and extreme caution during whale season, in order to avoid collisions with whales.  This year we are displaying posters in different businesses and a canvas at the boat ramp in Marina Vallarta.  Help us spread the word!

 

 

RABEN TEAM, A PERMANENT COMMITMENT.

With the arrival of thewhales we also started to receive reports of entangled whales. RABEN Bahía de Banderas has received 3 reports to date which have been corroborated but despite all efforts the release has not been possible due to the time of day or that the whale was not located. RABEN coordination would like to thank Dolphin and Vallarta Adventures, API Nautical Traffic, Ecotours de Mexico, Pablo Fernández de Marina Vallarta, Technological Institute of Bahía de Banderas and Explora Vallarta for the support in the days of search.

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We would like to especially thank Opequimar Marine Center for their support with the vessel and its crew, to CONANP for the support with personnel to coordinate the program, to Frank Mc Cann for his support to obtain funds, to Ecotours de México, Lavery’s Sod Farm, Inc. and Virginia Espino, who kindly donated money that will serve to pay for fuel and refreshments for the volunteers. Thank you very much, without this it would not have been possible to initiate this 7th year of surveillance. We have no doubt that with your support we will be able to raise funds for more outings.ECOBAC staff wishes you an excellent year kick off.

 

 

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End of Season Newsletter 2016

Dear friends, collaborators and volunteers of ECOBAC, we are very pleased to send you our end of season newsletter. The whale watching season started on the 1st of December 2015 and finished officially on the 23rd of March 2016. Even though there were fewer whales this season, ECOBAC’s campaigns and projects continued, working in many different areas. What follows is a brief review of this work:

 

Where did the whales go this winter?

As was reported in the previous newsletter, this whale watching season was greatly affected by the El Niño phenomenon, which caused whale abundance to decrease dramatically. This was not only felt in the Bay of Banderas region, but in all the areas where the North Pacific humpback whales usually arrive each winter to reproduce, such as Los Cabos, the Revillagigedos islands, all areas of the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico, and even in Hawaii a lower abundance of humpbacks whales was observed.

Additionally, it was not only a decrease in the number of whales witnessed this season, but also a change in their behavior, with the large majority of whale observations involving whales that displayed evasive behavior with long dives and little surface activity. Additionally, very few whales were found to be singing.

Worried about the situation, ECOBAC contacted whale researchers and tour operators from other regions across the North Pacific, and all told of the same situation of a much smaller quantity of whales. It was therefore proposed necessary that a complete analysis of whale abundance at the ocean basin level be performed to try and understand the implications and causes of this change to the migration of humpback whales, and to find out exactly where they were this season.


Rescuing Whales from Fishing Gear: Mexican National Whale Disentanglement Network

Desenmalle170116(2)

As you already know, in RABEN we have 15 inter-agency teams distributed along the Mexican Pacific, trained to safely rescue whales that are entangled in fishing gear. This year, despite the few whales recorded, RABEN still attended to nine reports of entangled whales throughout Mexican waters.

 

RABEN TEAM  SPECIES RESULT
Manzanillo Humpback Report could not be verified
Los Cabos Humpback Report could not be verified due to hurricane alert
Los Cabos Humpback Released
Rincón de Guayabitos y San Blas Humpback Banderas Bay team attended but report could not be verified
Bahía de Banderas Humpback Whale could not be relocated and report verified
Loreto Humpback Released
Bahía de los Angeles Humpback Released
Vizcaíno Grey Released
Vizcaíno Grey Whale could not be relocated and report verified

 

For the network to function well it is essential that the local community know of RABEN’s work and that they are informed of what to do in case they encounter an entangled whale. The collaboration of local fisherman and tour operators is vital for fast response to reports of entangled whales. Without this communication to RABEN teams, whales may remain entangled for a greater period which may even result in the death of a whale.

We know that not every disentanglement will be successful due to reasons out of our control, such as weather conditions, hours of daylight, behavior of the whales etc., but we are proud to now count 180 members of RABEN who have for one more year worked excellently in attending to entangled whales and spreading news of the work of the disentanglement network. We will continue with training and to look to replace the tools that were lost during rescues this year, to be prepared and ready for the next whale season.

Caring for the whales in the Bay of Banderas: Program of Prevention, Information, Vigilance and Monitoring of the Humpback Whales

Even though there were fewer whales recorded in the area this year, ECOBAC still conducted a census and vigilance of whale watch activities in the Bay of Banderas. In total, 13 vigilance trips were made in which they managed to observe 42 different occasions where vessels were engaged in whale watch activities. This is almost 60 % less than what was recorded in the last whale season. Most of the whale watching activities occurred close to the Marietas Islands National Park or slightly outside of the bay, and for that reason very few boats inside the bay reported that they were involved in whale watching this year. In fact, some whale watch operators decided to finish their whale watching tours and to close for the season almost a month earlier than the official end of the season. This was mainly due to the long journeys necessary to find whales (often to outside of the bay), combined with the few whales present and the fact that additionally the ocean conditions this season were not optimal for whale watch activities. This all contributed to whale watching being very difficult in the Bay of Banderas this season, which sometimes led to the tourists not being satisfied with the trips. It is clear therefore, that the reduced whale abundance in the Bay of Banderas will also have had an impact on the economy of the region.

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On the 30th of January 2016, a humpback whale mother and calf pod were found travelling at the entrance of the harbor of Puerto Vallarta. This represented a serious risk for both vessels and for the whales, as it is an area of high marine traffic. For this reason, we undertook the task of trying to protect the mother and calf staying with them for several hours in a vessel. With the support of the Harbor Master of Puerto Vallarta we also issued a warning via radio to the vessels entering and leaving the harbor to take precautions to avoid the whales. Thanks to this work there were no accidents that day.

Unfortunately, there was also a report of a tourist vessel that allowed their clients to get into the water to swim with a mother and calf pod, which apart from being very dangerous, is prohibited by the Mexican whale watching regulations. This act, which was irresponsibly allowed by the vessel crew, could have triggered a serious accident. This act was reported to PROFEPA Delegación Nayarit, and the report is still being processed.

embarcaciones

This season we have implemented a new part of this program, giving ourselves the task to record the number of vessels, types of maneuvers and speed of travel between Punta de Mita and the Marietas Islands National Park, in the zone known as “el canal” or in English “the channel”. The international fame of the Marietas Park has generated a noticeable increase in marine traffic in the channel, which is also used as the principal entrance of the bay by humpback whales. Our results show that during the holiday periods or on bank holiday weekends on average one boat per minute will pass through the channel, and outside of holiday periods 0.3 boats a minute will pass through the area. We estimate the average travel speed is 30 miles per hour, which would make it impossible to avoid a whale and in the incident of a collision this speed might be deathly for both the whale and people aboard the vessel.

 

Additionally, faster speeds will also generate greater noise, which might lead to whales avoiding entering the bay. We are planning a meeting before the next whale watching season between the authorities and the tour operators of Punta de Mita, where this data will be presented to propose actions to be put in place to prevent accidents in the future. Following our observations in the field, we suggest it´s important to reduce speed while navigating through the channel area and to have an observer standing at the bow of the boat checking the horizon for whales. Both actions will reduce dramatically the risk of vessel collisions with whales.

The successful running of this program is only made possible by the sponsorship of the “United States Fish and Wildlife Service”, the support of the Opequimar Centro Marino, and the 8th Navy Zone, whom just like our volunteers, year upon year join and support our campaign. We are grateful also to Ana Ezcurra, Artemio Martínez, Candy Lara, Fabiola Flores, Jorge Morales and Monse Servín who joined us on the vigilance trips.


 

BALLAENARTE 2º. Festival of Whale Conservation

 

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As part of the campaign “I care for the whales” and with the moto “Knowing, loving and caring”, the 2nd Festival of Whale Conservation was held. It was aimed this year principally at the younger local population.

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We started with talks and presentations in schools and public libraries of the region as preparatory activities for the festival. This begun on the 16th March in the library of Los Mangos in Puerto Vallarta, where children of the city arrived at 5pm to learn and have fun. Then at the Centro Univeritario de la Costa the biologist Astrid Frisch presented a lecture about humpback whales and whale research projects in this area. The festival then ended on a high note with a display on the arches of the Vallarta boardwalk with games, interactive segments and education panels that were there to draw attention of locals and tourists that walked by. Also there was a game that the children could play called “Zooomergidos” that helped them to lean about the marine mammals of the Sea of Cortez, the anatomy of whales and some of the threats that they face. It was also the the premier of the kids story “Yuba and the ball” wrote by Biol. Roberto Moncada (Instituto Tecnológico de Bahía de Banderas) and it was a great success. We also presented education panels that enabled the children to learn about whale migration and the anatomy of the humpback whale. “Kuikani” the 6.5 m inflatable whale was the mascot of the event and a great attraction.

festival

The 2º. Festival of Whale Conservation was made possible due to the sponsorship of the “United States Fish and Wildlife Service”. The teaching materials were designed with the help of de Ana Ezcurra and the coordination of the Carrera de Diseño para Comunicación Gráfica del Centro Universitario de la Costa, UdeG, led by Marcela De Niz Villaseñor and the students Alma Bernal Navarro, Ángel Vázquez Juárez, César Galindo Hernández, Cindia Pérez Aguirre, Desiree Soto Ruiz, Edgar Orlando Gamboa Ramos, Karla Santana Ornelas, Michelle Medellín Valdez, Ramón Orlando Gamboa Cuadros. We would also like to thank Tonatiuh Santos García, for his invaluable work in the coordination of the design of the teaching games, of the education panels and of the campaign “I care for the whales”. Thanks also to Valeria Mas for allowing us to use her incredible photograph of a female humpback whale and calf. Also we are very grateful to have had such enthusiastic volunteers who very kindly committed to help in the activities before and during the festival. We are very thankful too Ana Ezcurra, Anel Acosta, Artemio Martínez, Betty Richter, Blanca Eng, Candy Lara, Claudia Parra, David Parra, Edna Cornejo, Fabiola Flores, Franck McCann, Giovana Reyes Haritz Andrade, Isabel Moran, Jorge Morales, Lesli Mendoza, Manyi de la Cruz, Michael Acosta, Mónica Domínguez, Noriela Andrade, Tania Verdín and all of the students of the Instituto Tecnológico de Bahía de Banderas who also joined us to help during the festival.


 

 

We are going to present our research findings!

 

ballenas

With the aim of presenting our findings from whale research from this area, ECOBAC submitted two abstracts, that were accepted and will be presented as an oral presentation and as a poster at the XXXV Reunión de la Sociedad Mexicana de Mastozoología Marina, which will be held on the 1st to the 5th of May in La Paz, BCS. The works that will be presented are “The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Bay of Banderas, México: Analysis of the relative abundance and temporal variation during the winters from 2004 – 2014” and “Photo-identification of the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae): Is it true that lateral fluke coloration does not change over time?” Both pieces of work are important in understanding the status of the population of humpback whales that visit the Bay of Banderas each year, and also reflect all the years of work of ECOBAC.

cola-ballena

 

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Newsletter February 2016

ECOBAC´s February 2016 Newsletter

¡¡¡We went to San Francisco!!!

We are pleased to inform you all that, we had the opportunity to participate and attend in the “21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals”, which took place in San Francisco, California from the 13th to the 18th of December 2015. This conference is the most important international conference for marine mammal research. More than 2,000 participants from over 65 countries attended. To participate in the conference, it was necessary to compete with over 4,000 other applicants, and in the end two of ECOBACs’ entries were accepted. The first was an oral presentation with the topic title of “RABEN: Mexican Big Whale Disentanglement Network”, given by Biologist Astrid Frisch. The second was a scientific poster on the topic of “Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Banderas bay, Mexico; Relative abundance analysis and seasonal variation during the winters of 2004 to 2014”, by Iyari Espinoza MSc. Also, ECOBAC took part in two workshops, one about disentanglements and the other about mitigation of by-catch in fisheries. Overall, by attending the conference we learnt many things, and took away new research ideas for our own studies and to share with others in the future

…and the whales, where are they?

Picture2Like all the readers of this bulletin with connections to the marine environment have noted, it has become apparent to us this year that there are very few whales, or at least far fewer than we have seen in previous years. This may be a product of the natural phenomena known as “El Niño”, a cyclical global phenomena that causes the warming of the waters of South America, which in turn causes irregular and erratic rain. What additional impacts does “El Niño” cause? Changes in atmospheric circulation; warming of the planet and higher sea temperatures; marine and non-marine species that are susceptible to these changes will either die or change their migratory roots; and large economic losses may be felt in costal industries, such as reduced fishing etc. Also diseases caused by humidity, heat and excessive rain may arise. Due to “El Niño” having global impacts on weather patterns, it is not just in the Bay of Banderas where its effects are being felt and there is an absence of whales. It is also occurring in Hawaii and other Mexican humpback whale breeding areas such as Guerrero, Manzanillo and San Blas. However, our neighbors of Los Cabos appear to have had more humpback whales visiting their region than usual. We are not suggesting that there haven’t been whales seen in the Bay of Banderas this winter, only that we have seen less. We continue to monitor the situation to see if there are any changes throughout the season, but it is most likely that we will have to wait for the next whale season to see what will happen then and to understand more.

Caring for the whales

Humpback Whales Prevention, Information, Surveillance and Monitoring Program

­­Picture5ECOBAC once again is monitoring whale watch activities inside the Bay of Banderas to ensure the correct conduct of vessels around whales, according to the guidelines established in the NOM-131-SEMARNAT-2010. During the vigilance trips, good navigation and whale watching practices are promoted, with the aim to develop awareness, principally in private vessel operators or “pirates” who undertake whale watching without licenses and are not informed of proper whale watching conduct. In addition, whale watch tour operators are monitored to check that they are following the whale watching guidelines. This is achieved by the support of Opequimar marine center, the 8th Zone of the Mexican Navy and committed volunteers. This is the fifth year that this project has been running, and the results so far have been positive. In the last two seasons we have witnessed far fewer episodes of vessel crowing around whales, and the number of licensed vessels has been increasing, therefore reducing the number of boats which aren’t licensed and are unaware of proper whale conduct. We are also focused on protecting and better informing vessel operators on how to maneuver and navigate around mothers with calves. They are the most vulnerable groups of whales and they are often the easiest to find, the most suitable for observation, and a very popular whale encounter for tourists. There are 16 monitoring trips programmed this season, and as of yet we have only completed half of them. The preliminary results from the first eight trips suggest that there is a much lower abundance of whales compared to previous years, this has also been expressed to us by concerned tour operators, who have reported that this year they have had to travel much larger distances to find whales.

The song of the whales: a possible indicator of welfare and health

Picture3As you all well know, whales sing and only in their breeding areas. That is why here, in the Bay of Banderas, we are fortunate to have the opportunity every winter to listen to the romantic songs that males sing to the females, to court them and become fathers to newborn whales the following year. Therefore, what is happening now that there are so few whales reported in the bay? It is the same question we have been asking ourselves at ECOBAC, therefore we decided to investigate, to see if there are lots of males singing or only a few. For this reason, during our “Program of Prevention, Information, Vigilance and Monitoring of Humpback Whales”, the biologists and volunteers onboard of the vessel are taking a little bit of time out to drop a hydrophone, so that we can listen and monitor the activity of the male singers.

Ocean traffic

Picture4The continued rise of tourist traffic in the Marietas Islands National Park has led to a considerable increase in vessel traffic in the area know as “the channel” (“el canal”), situated between Punta de Mita and the Marietas Islands National Park. This is due primarily because Punta de Mita is the area closest to the National Park, and therefore the area where it is most accessible to the tourists. It is for this reason, that at ECOBAC we have set out to actually count the number of vessels that pass the area in a set amount of time. Through this we hope to evaluate whether this marine traffic is affecting in anyway the whales, because of course “the channel” is the area that the whales use as the entrance to our beautiful bay.

Training a necessary tool for conservation

Picture6This year, in addition to focusing on local training, we jumped several states to train tour operators of the Guerrero coast. Thanks to the “Whales of Guerrero Project”, who organized the workshop, representatives from ECOBAC and the Tecnológico de Bahía de Banderas taught workshops over two days to 35 participants, who were all very interested to learn about whales, their behavior and the correct manor of how to accomplish successful whale watching tours. The workshop involved two days of theory, and one day of practical, where they went out aboard two boats along the coast of Guerrero to look for whales, and to put into practices what they had learnt. The workshop was attended by people from the local areas of Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo and Barra de Potosí. The response was excellent, and in general we are confident that all the attendees now know how to successfully whale watch without altering the behavior of the whales, and above all else caring for the whales whilst continuing to conserve them as a source of income.

The humpback whale as a “flagship species” for the care and protection of the environment in the Bay of Banderas

Picture7Today it is common knowledge, due to constant media coverage, that the climate of the planet is changing. It is now necessary that we are conscious and aware and of all of our actions, and that we try to moderate and change them to help with the conservation of the environment. It is for this reason that this year “The 2nd Festival of Whale Conservation” (“2do Festival por la Conservación Ballenarte”) is being held, with the focus of raising awareness in local people, national and international tourists, from children to adults, with the objectives that they grow with the conviction of caring and respecting our natural environment. For this purpose, interactive modules were designed with board games, such as “Zoomergidos”, which is similar to the traditional Mexican “lotto” but with marine mammals, their anatomy and their greatest threats to survival; also a specially designed games called “Anchors and Lifejackets”, a version of “Snakes and Ladders”, but with actions that guide the children to conserve the environment. In this way, the children and adults can enjoy and learn more about the biodiversity of marine mammals of our region and how to conserve and care for them.

BANER

Festival Ballenarte will be held on the 16th, 17th and 18th March

Do not forget about the Festival Ballenarte! This is the program of activities.

Wednesday March 16th, 5:00pm

Loving our whales:  Talk about whales for kids

Education games and surprises

Public Library of Los Mangos

Thursday, March 17th 6:00pm

Knowing Humpback whales and Banderas Bay projects: Lecture

Mini-auditorium 1. Research and Postgrad. Building CUC-UDG

Friday, March 18th 7:00pm

Caring for whales.

Come and have fun with our educational games and interactive displays.

Meet our real life size inflatable baby whale.

There´ll be surprises!

Arches of the PV Boardwalk (Malecon)

With activities to compliment the Festival Ballenarte, in February we will be visiting schools and public libraries giving talks about whales and the importance of caring for the oceans.

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2016 Season Begins ECOBAC Newsletter

Whale watching season starts this December 1st, 2015

Like every year at this time, as they so rightly deserve, we are enthusiastically preparing to receive the whales. Part of the preparation includes new projects that we are sure you will all like. We will also be continuing with several existing projects, but with an injection of fresh ideas. We hope that through this work we will plant and cement, in both the minds of the local population of the Bay of Banderas and visiting tourists, the concept of caring for the whales, in a simple and clear manner.

Additionally, we have received the excellent notification, for those involved in the whale watching industry, that for this year the season will start on December 1st. 2015 and finishes on March 23rd March 2016; in other words, we will have one more week to enjoy sustainably the whales’ presence in the area. Meanwhile, SEMARNAT (Jalisco Delegation).

Mexican National Whale Disentanglement Network (RABEN)

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The ongoing training of staff that make up RABEN, is of paramount importance to ensure that entanglement events (which may potentially occur in any of the areas of Mexico where gray whales and humpback whales assemble to reproduce and nurse calves) are dealt with in the most safe and efficient manner possible.

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It is for this reason that ECOBAC (who since 2012 has been in charge of the national coordination of RABEN) organized three workshops, with the aim to strengthen the most newly included teams and members of RABEN. The first workshop took place in Santa María Huatulco, Oaxaca, and included all three RABEN teams of Oaxaca state. The second workshop took place in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, and the third in Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur (which involved the training of the teams of RABEN El Vizcaíno, RABEN Bahía Magdalena and RABEN La Paz).

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These workshops took place thanks mainly to the sponsorship of CONANP, and included participating members of CONANP, PROFEPA, local academic institutions, tour operators and civil organizations.  The workshops included many trained RABEN team members, as well as new participants who wanted to join the team. Without doubt this commendable work is one of the most important projects that directly helps with the conservation of the charismatic whales that visit Mexico.

Field Practice for the RABEN Teams of the Bahía de Banderas

Apart from the training of RABEN members in workshops across the country, it is also important that the staff that makes up RABEN Bahía de Banderas do their annual practice of field techniques. For this reason on the 28th of October 2015, in the Marina of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, a training workshop took place including participants of the 8th Navy Zone, PROFEPA (Nayarit Delegation), the Captain of the Port of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, the Instituto Tecnológico de Bahía de Banderas, the Port Authority of Puerto Vallarta, ECOBAC, Vallarta Adventures, Ecotours de México and Explora Vallarta. The practice provided the chance to strengthen rescue techniques and was under the supervision of the expert David Matilla, who has been training the team since 2006.  Certainly, a great and much appreciated opportunity!  

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Workshop of the Prevention of Whale Entanglements

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Whale entanglement events are of great international interest, and on many occasions whales are entangled in fishing gear that they have carried for long distances, often from their feeding areas to their breeding areas or vice versa. If this is the case, it may well mean that the whale has been dragging the fishing gear for more than three months, and therefore will have wasted a large amount of energy in doing so.

To address this problem, and to try to continually reduce the number of entanglements, action has to be taken at a local and regional level. It is clearly necessary therefore, to work with fisherman and to plan strategies’ together to try to avoid whales being trapped in fishing gear and therefore also avoiding loss of fishing gear or catch and income to the fisherman.

For this reason three pioneering workshops took place in Puerto Ángel, Oaxaca, Guerrero Negro, B.C.S. and San Blas, Nayarit. They were attended by staff from CONANP, independent fisherman and representatives from fisheries cooperatives. All three events were very productive, and it is with great pleasure we inform you that the fisherman were very interested in the subject, and some even offered their help to work towards the testing of preventative “experimental fishing gear”. It is important to remember that the fishermen are not casting their nets with the intention of catching a whale! All the ideas and suggestions provided were integrated into a leaflet, which will be distributed in the regions of Mexico where the whales and fisherman often occur side by side, so that fishermen will know what to do when they go out fishing and observe a whale nearby.

We continue to support, strengthen and publicize this project with the hope that in a few years it will no longer be necessary to attend to whale entanglements.

Boletin Inicio 2015-Picture6 Interior of Entanglement Prevention Tips for Fishermen Brochure

National Workshop of Marine Mammal Protected Areas

At ECOBAC we were extremely happy to attend the recent meeting of the International Committee on Marine Mammal Protected Areas (ICCMPA). It was held at the Hotel Sheraton Buganvillas, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco and was attended by the directors of CONANP´s National Parks, who spoke about their work and operations involving marine mammals.

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Now the groundwork is being laid for the 4th International Conference of Marine Mammal Protected Areas, which will be proudly celebrated here in Puerto Vallarta, thanks to the hard work of the president of ECOBAC and the support of CONANP. It is hoped that over 250 participants from all over the world will attend. During the meeting, the considerable progress that Mexico has made in many different environmental protection matters will be expressed. The fact that in Mexico, especially in Puerto Vallarta, international meetings such as these are now occurring is a great achievement and above all a strong acknowledgement of this progress, although there is still space for improvements in some areas of marine conservation in Mexico until it reaches international levels. Additionally, it will bring the international spotlight on to Puerto Vallarta and will be a great opportunity to promote Puerto Vallarta as a destination to the world, as attendees are expected from all continents.

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ACTIVITIES FOR THE UPCOMING WHALE SEASON

“I care for the whales” Campaign

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Environmental education and awareness is of upmost importance for the conservation of the natural environment, and it is this relationship between education and conservation that forms the basis of the saying “you can not protect what you do not”. It is for this reason that for the fourth year in a row ECOBAC will be running the campaign “I care for the whales”, but this year it will be a revised and expanded version. The objectives of the campaign are to encourage and ensure; good boating and navigational practices during the whale season; that tour operators and private vessels engaged in whale watching do so in the correct manner; that boats do not interrupt the natural behavior and activities of whales; that boats avoid getting too close to the whales; and to promote respect for the NOM-131-SEMARNAT-2010, that regulates whale watch activities in the region.

We hope to have great success with our season projects, we thank all our friends, sponsors, and collaborators for helping us make this happen.  Remember, “We all care for the Whales.”