Usually, when we report on a drone being grounded or shot down, the owner of that unmanned aerial vehicle is committing a crime or trespassing illegally. We’ve seen this before, like when a California man flew over two football stadiums to drop anti-media leaflets and being arrested shortly thereafter. More often than not, the drones being shot down are drug-smuggling vehicles at federal penitentiaries across the country, as they’ve become an affordable, practical tool for inmates to circumvent contraband restrictions. This past weekend, however, in the Gulf of California, the forcibly grounded UAV belonged to conservationists looking for illegal activity, while it was a fisherman who brought the UAV down from the sky.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a U.S. conservation group called Sea Shepherd has had two ships stationed in the Sea of Cortez and has tirelessly worked to save the endangered vaquita porpoise from extinction. The local poachers catch and sell yet another endangered species, the totoaba fish, on the black market, which then finds its way to China for its dubious medical benefits. The poachers, and the nets they use to catch the totoaba, have been getting entangled with the endangered vaquita fish. Hence, the Sea Shepherd uses drones to get a clear, helpful vantage point of the area in order to spot any nets adrift at sea.
Reportedly, the group has faced a severe backlash from the locals. Founder of Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, said “[The] poachers don’t like us, they’ve made that very clear. We’ve received a lot of threats." The Sea Shepherd is an established, functioning conservation group with 12 ships stationed across the world, but it still faces bureaucratic and local, personal issues like these from time to time. “We are hoping the Mexican government will take this incident seriously,” said Watson.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the drone was shot down at 10.30 p.m., evading the first few bullets but ultimately losing that battle. As they say, don’t bring a drone to a gunfight. Reportedly, the drone’s embedded camera captured a fisherman on a speedboat shooting at the drone. Suddenly, the video feed stopped.
Watson and his group are trying to protect the vaquita porpoise from extinction, while the locals are trying to survive, themselves. While there is only approximately 30 vaquita porpoise left, the totoaba go for $20,000 per kilogram (2 pounds), which surely sways the fishermen from potential conservationist to definite businessman.
“It’s a delicate situation,” said Watson. “The fishermen don’t have fish and are desperate for something that is worth so much money.” He added that drones have become an important tool of Sea Shepherd’s strategies, as it provides the group with documented evidence and the ability to see, exactly, where fishermen drop their nets in the dark of night. Drones have helped the group make huge strides in this anti-poaching effort, and as Watson himself said, “We’re not going to be backing down.”