Brooke Bessesen, marine biologist and author, came to speak with our chapter in Redwood City, California on February 2, 2019. Her book, “Vaquita: Science, Politics, and Crime in the Sea of Cortez,” an inspiring and honest read, came out in Fall 2018. I read the book and immediately contacted her on a whim. Bessesen graciously accepted an invitation to give a talk about vaquita, have a question and answer session, and provide a book signing.

The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the world, and it is endemic to the Sea of Cortez in Baja, California. We are the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of The Wildlife Society, so this issue is far away from us, right? Nope. This is a local issue.

Gillnets, used to hunt the critically endangered fish, totoaba, are the main source of vaquita deaths. Totoaba are protected, and poaching occurs to collect their swim bladders. These swim bladders are dried and smuggled across the Mexican border to the U.S. Some swim bladders stay here in California, while the rest are shipped out via the Port of Los Angeles or the Port of San Francisco, where they are sent to China for “medicinal” use or in food. Without evidence, toroaba swim bladders have been used to treat everything from fertility to acne.

There are a lot of moving pieces in the story of the vaquita, and they are simply an unfortunate casualty in a story of greed and corruption. China, the Mexican cartel, and local fishermen, are all fighting against the Mexican Navy, biologists, non-profit organizations like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Vaquita CPR, and Sea Shepherd Society. And this really only scratches at the surface of what Bessesen’s book goes into.

Add the complication that the vaquita is a porpoise that is extremely illusive, and prone to capture myopathy, which has meant that captive-breeding programs will not help the species. They die from capture stress. Bessesen shared this information with us, and more. What can we do? How can we help? Is it our responsibility? (To which, I follow with the question, how is it not?)

After the talk, question and answer session, book signing, and postcard writing to the Mexican president, every single person stayed in the room. We were all so in awe and so inspired that, as strangers, we all came together to brainstorm. What could we do to help? How can we make a difference? Know the facts. Raise awareness. Support eco-minded fishermen. Vote for protective laws. Be a compassionate consumer. Educate our locals, especially with our large Chinese population in the SF Bay Area. And so much more. Being in a room with so many people ready to stand up and help was incredibly moving.

However, I must say that the most poignant, powerful moment came when someone asked Bessesen about her drive to help the species. She told us that the author of a book about Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji, once said that the species went extinct when no one was looking. If the vaquita is going to go extinct, she wants the whole world watching.

No more turning a blind eye, no more pretending like there is nothing to be done. We started the year with about 30 vaquita remaining, it is April, and we may now be down to 12. World, are you watching?

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Meet Eloise Annora Davis! She was born on November 9th, 2018 at 4 pm and weighed 7 lbs 4 oz. Past-president Kristin Tremain Davis (2017) and her husband Kyle welcomed their healthy baby girl 3 weeks early! The board is already planning her 2039 professional development workshops and working tirelessly on her campaign to lead her future student chapter. (Totally kidding, but we DO plan to invite her to our events and we are pretty sure she will love wildlife as much as her mama.) Congratulations to Kristin and Kyle!

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Congratulations to the Animex Scholarship Winners!!

We are happy to announce that this wonderful company, Animex Fencing, that provides a student scholarship to us for attendance to the Western Section Annual Meeting, will be supporting not only graduate student Ellie Bolas, but two undergraduate students she works with. Let's learn about these three exceptional students!

Ellie Bolas (seen with Spotted Skunk and in lab) is finishing a Master's of Science in the Graduate Group of Ecology and Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology at UC Davis. Outside of her studies on endemic species such as the island fox (Urocyon littoralis) and the island spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis amohiala), Ellie is an avid advocate for expanding access to science education and public interest in the outside world! Her application also included the ambition to help two of her interns, Miroslava Munguia Ramos and Andy Lee, both seniors at UC Davis attend the event as well, so let's find out more about them and what they hope to gain from the experience. Miroslava Munguia Ramos [in the Serengeti!] is a senior at UCD majoring in Environmental Science and Management with a minor in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology. As an intern, she sorted and labeled thousands of wildlife camera images to assist with research on resource selection and status of island spotted skunks. Miroslava is also the Co-President for UCD's Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity, and Sustainability (S.E.E.D.S.). Andy Lee [seen with Channel Islands Fox and in lab] is a senior at UCD majoring in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology. Andy's internship contributes to research on the evolutionary history of island spotted skunks and he is involved in field and lab work and data analysis to help compile a mitogenome for island spotted skunks. Andy is also an accomplished photographer. INTERVIEW: What are you and your interns hoping to gain from the meeting? Ellie: I’m looking forward to presenting findings from my master’s research on the status of island spotted skunks and to re-connecting with some friends and fellow researchers. Also, I’m really excited to help Miroslava and Andy connect with some of the great scientists from TWS-WS with whom they may want to work in the future! Miroslava: I'm most excited to be exposed to all the opportunities available within the realm of wildlife ecology and conservation.  Andy: I am hoping to learn more about different topics of research in wildlife ecology. I'm also very excited to meet different professors, researchers, and students.  Which program topics are you most interested in learning about? Ellie: I always enjoy hearing about new advances in research during the concurrent sessions. I’m also really looking forward to the plenary session this year. I study rare species that are vulnerable to extinction, so the plenary topic is particularly relevant. Additionally, I have a secret love of Pleistocene ecology and am eager to learn more from Dr. Mychajliw! Miroslava: I'm looking forward to the Wildlife Career Symposium and the Yosemite Workshop/Field Trip Case Studies to see how to get started and continue working in national parks. Andy: I'm most interested in the Ecology and Conservation of Mammals, but I'm also excited about all the topics regarding the Anthropocene.  What else does 2019 have in store for you? Ellie: I’m looking forward to finishing my master’s, hopefully publishing a paper or two, and beginning my PhD. Miroslava: Besides graduation, my goal is to promote citizen science and get friends and family back home excited about nature and the environment. Andy: I'm finishing my undergrad this year, and hope to land a job and start my career as an ecologist!

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