Commentary by Erwin Vermeulen, Sea Shepherd Chief Engineer

The retirement of this four-legged hero was officially confirmed and celebrated during a ceremony in his honorThe retirement of this four-legged hero was officially confirmed and celebrated during a ceremony dedicated to the retirement of all four dogs
Photo: Sea Shepherd /
Erwin Vermeulen
In October 2013, Manotas was the first Golden Lab of the Galapagos K9 wildlife-detection unit of the Ecuadorian National Police to retire. Read the original story Manotas, the First Sea Shepherd Galapagos Wildlife-sniffing Dog, Retires. The retirement of this four-legged hero was officially confirmed and celebrated during a ceremony in his honor in Ecuador’s capital, Quito.

The first week of May 2014, Nico, Bosco, Kevin and Cristina were set to join Manotas in a well-deserved life of rest, love, joy and play after their service for the oceans and wildlife of the Galapagos. So once again I boarded a plane, this time accompanied by Sea Shepherd USA Administrative Director, Susan Hartland and Lady’s Hope Dog Rescue Founder, Yvonne Devereaux to meet the wonderful Sea Shepherd Galapagos team at their base in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, where the official handover of the dogs from the police back into Sea Shepherd’s hands would take place.

In 2008, Sea Shepherd acquired six police dogs in Colombia and Manotas, Nico, Bosco and Kevin were four of them. Four more dogs came from several sources; Cristina was one of those. After extensive training by the elite Ecuadorian police unit Grupo de Intervención y Rescate (GIR) on the mainland, the dogs were transferred to the Galapagos Islands in January 2009 where, after additional training by the environmental police, Unidad de Protección del Medio Ambiente (UPMA), they became part of the canine squad combating the smuggling of shark fins and sea cucumbers and wildlife trafficking in the Galapagos Islands. Once in the Galapagos, the dogs were divided over the main population centers on the islands - Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal, and Puerto Villamil on Isabela Island - and have been checking all movements of people and cargo between, to and from these islands.

Since 2010, Sea Shepherd Galapagos has been the only group providing food and veterinary care to the dogs. Sea Shepherd will continue to cover all food and medical care expenses for the remaining dogs, as well as training materials.

The presence of the dogs is a great deterrent for wildlife smuggling, and the K9 unit has proven over the years that if you engage in this illegal trafficking, you will get caught.

Bosco and Nico worked on San Cristobal Island. In 2011, they performed 942 flight and 394 vessel checks. The effective combination of maritime patrols and K9 unit checks resulted that year in the discovery and confiscation of 357 mutilated shark bodies, 82 sharks, 225 shark fins, 292 lobsters and 731 sea cucumbers.

That same year, Kevin and Manotas performed 1706 flight and 1449 vessel checks on the main tourist island of Santa Cruz, preventing a marine iguana, a Galapagos tortoise and four sea horses from being smuggled out of the Galapagos. Cristina did similar checks on flights and ships on Isabela Island.

More than 1,500 shark fins, almost 10,000 sea cucumbers and more than 1,100 lobsters have been intercepted so far, along with various live wildlife specimens.

Since 2000, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has maintained a strong and positive presence in the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos is our line in the sand. If humanity cannot protect such a unique and diverse ecosystem, we will not be able to protect any ecosystem. The Galapagos is a challenge and a battlefield in the effort to halt human greed and destruction. These ‘Enchanted Isles’ are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that we all have a responsibility to help protect them from illegal exploitation. Over the years Sea Shepherd has, among other things, supplied radio equipment to the park rangers and police and an Automatic Identification System (AIS) to monitor movements of fishing vessels. Sea Shepherd has also provided education to schoolchildren about the importance of protecting sharks. And, of course, we initiated the K9 unit.

Part of the agreement with the UPMA was that, after 5 years of work on planetary duty, these canine superstars would be returned to Sea Shepherd, whose staff would find them the best homes and families available and will monitor their well being for the rest of their lives. For this reason, we brought the dogs to Seattle, where we will work with Lady’s Hope Dog Rescue to find them homes in the Pacific Northwest, in the vicinity of the Sea Shepherd USA headquarters.

The ceremony in Puerto Ayora was well attended and organized. In attendance to honor the dogs were, amongst others: the Delegate of the City's Mayor (Alcalde); the National Commander of the Environmental Protection Unit of the National Police (Unidad de Proteccion del Medio Ambiente de la Policia Nacional); the Cantonal (city) Police Commander (Comandante cantonal de Policia); the Delegate of the Governor (Gobernador); the Director of the Agencia de Regulacion y Control de Bioseguridad (biosafety authority); the Subdirector of the Parque Nacional Galapagos (second authority at national park); Delegates and/or representatives of the Consejo de Gobierno del Régimen Especial de la Provincia de Galapagos; the Air Force; the Civil Aviation (airport authority); the Judicial authorities; several policemen; the Representative of the Conservation Sector; and the local media including representatives from radio, television and newspapers.

Sea Shepherd was represented by Galapagos Director Godfrey Merlen, Galapagos Legal Advisor Hugo Echeverria, Global Executive Director Alex Cornelissen, Sea Shepherd USA Administrative Director Susan Hartland, Lady’s Hope Dog Rescue Founder Yvonne Devereaux and Sea Shepherd Chief Engineer, Erwin Vermeulen.

Many speeches were given, all emphasizing the importance of the K9 unit and the great satisfaction from all sides over the cooperation between Sea Shepherd, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ecuador, the National Police, the National Park and the local authorities and community.

Kevin and his guide gave one more demonstration of their effectiveness and professionalism by successfully sniffing out a few pieces of dried sea cucumber from a display of identical boxes.

It cannot be emphasized enough that these dogs and their guides formed the first-ever police K9 unit in South America that focuses on the detection of contraband wildlife. The success of this project is critical, as other South American countries and beyond could learn from this model program and implement a similar system. This will be elemental in getting stronger wildlife protections in place in a part of the world that is so rich in biodiversity.

Arriving at SeaTac airport, the dogs were in great spirits, especially considering the three multiple-hour flights. They were greeted by their foster families who will give them a chance to adjust to their new lives while we get to know them and learn their individual characteristics and personalities, helping to find them the ideal, loving, permanent homes.

More updates on these retired canine Sea Shepherds in their new lives will follow.

Thank you very much to everyone who supported this project, and to everyone who filled out applications to either foster or adopt (check out the LHDR website; there are many more dogs looking for a forever home!) and Sea Shepherd volunteers Carlos and Cristina in Quito.

Sea Shepherd considers Galapagos an ongoing campaign and possibly one of the most important in our history and in that of the human race. After all, if we can’t protect an eco-system as unique as the Galapagos Islands, we are doomed as a species.

Please click on the link below to donate, if you can, to support these and other important wildlife- and habitat-saving projects: Support Sea Shepherd.

Visit our
Sea Shepherd Galapagos
site for more information.
Sea Shepherd Galapagos
Sea Shepherd
Divina Guadalupe Beaked Whale Research Project
Divina Guadalupe Beaked Whale Research Project
#Breaking #SeaShepherd helps scientists learn more about #rare Beaked whales! Did you know that Cuvier's Beaked whales hold the record for the deepest mammalian dive? Watch the video to learn more about these elusive creatures. With #science we can help protect these beautiful animals from seismic b...
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Operation Milagro III Campaign Launch Video
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is returning to Mexico’s Gulf of California for Operation Milagro III to save the near extinct vaquita marina porpoise and the endangered totoaba bass. The M/V Farley Mowat is back on active duty with the M/V Sam Simon joining the Milagro campaign for the first ti...
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
Sea Shepherd Investigates Whale Corpse in Sea of Cortez
The Farley Mowat Sea Shepherd crew is called out to investigate a dead Brydes whale in the Gulf of California on November 5th, 2016 while patrolling the vaquita refuge. To help the Sea Shepherd crew to continue its work in the Sea of Cortez, including protecting the near-extinct vaquita marina porpo...
Entanglement in the South
Entanglement in the South
Operation Guardian Angel - In and around Bahia de Los Angeles, in the Gulf of California, countless marine species are entrapped in nets with little or no hope of rescue. Rosalia Tellez works for CONANP, a department of the Mexican government that acts as park rangers to enforce laws and assist in ...
Good and Bad Days
Good and Bad Days
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers over the course of two days. The first day Sea Shepherd locates and removes a long line from the sea; fortunately no animals were caught in the net. However, the next day volunteers find a sea lion that has been caught and died in a fisherman's net.
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Operation Virus Hunter Campaign Summary
Sea Shepherd campaign Operation Virus Hunter saw the vessel RV Martin Sheen under the leadership of Alexandra Morton, head up the coast of British Columbia Canada to expose open pen Atlantic salmon farms and the impact they are having on wild Pacific salmon and the the surrounding eco-systems.
Illegal Totoaba Nets
Illegal Totoaba Nets
This video follows Sea Shepherd volunteers through the process of locating, retrieving and disposing of illegal nets in the Gulf of California.
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
Discovering Alleged Wild Salmon Dead in Fish Farms
August 12th 2016: Early Thursday morning the R/V Martin Sheen assisted Melissa Willie, a band councilor of the Musgamagw Dza’wada’enuxw nation, in hand delivering a letter to three farms expressing the nations disapproval of the industry. Sea Shepherd crew alongside independent biologist Alexand...
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
The Grind of the Faroe Islands
Ross McCall travels to the Faroe Islands to explore the truths behind the centuries old tradition of the brutal Pilot Whale drives.
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Operation Virus Hunter: A Salmon PSA with Pamela Anderson
Sea Shepherd Chairman of the Board, actor/activist Pamela Anderson, cautions viewers about the dangers of eating farmed salmon.
Why Just One?  Indiegogo Video
Why Just One? Indiegogo Video
Support Sea Shepherd's documentary by sharing and backing our Indiegogo campaign here: http://bit.ly/1OfvER6
Milagro Summary - English
Milagro Summary - English
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Operation Milagro II has come to an end. Milagro is its campaign to fight the looming extinction of the vaquita porpoise, the most endangered marine mammal in the world. With an estimate of less than 100 surviving vaquita, Sea Shepherd ships the R/V Martin Sheen...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 15 - Good Bye
Watch the crew of the Farley Mowat capture footage of illegal fishing activity with a night vision drone and pull up a totoaba net in the dead of night. This is the final vlog of Operation Milagro II!
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project
Sea Shepherd's Ethical Research Whale Project is dedicated to collect samples from whales in the Gulf of California to measure levels of toxins in whales in order to determine the levels of toxins in the Gulf of California itself. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Totoaba Poachers Caught on Camera
Never before seen footage. Sea Shepherd catches critically endangered totoaba poacher in the act. The Sea Shepherd crew filmed these totoaba poachers as they were checking one of their illegal nets in the protected vaquita habitat. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the wor...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 14 - Saving Lives
Watch‬ the routine of our crew doing valuable work in the ‪Sea of Cortez‬. We have been very effective at removing illegal fishing gear from the ‪‎vaquita‬ porpoise's habitat. So much so, that now, most of the time we remove nets and lines that are mostly empty, our favorite thing to do....
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
Sea Shepherd finds 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks
The Sea Shepherd crew has found 3 dead vaquitas in 3 weeks in the month of march of 2016. The vaquita porpoise is the most endangered marine mammal in the world. Learn more at: www.seashepherd.org/milagro2
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
Sea Shepherds finds a dead sample of the most endangered marine mammal in the world
While patrolling the waters of the upper Gulf of California the Sea Shepherd crew found a dead vaquita porpoise. The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal in the whole world. The crew also found a Great White Shark caught in an illegal gillnet.
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 12 - This is Direct Action
This week, the crew of ‪Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ships The M/V Farley Mowat and The RV Martin Sheen find and retrieve an illegal totoaba bass long line from the critically endangered ‪vaquita porpoise habitat. The totoaba fish is also critically endangered. Watch all episodes at: http...
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd Crew Save Humpback Whale Entangled in Illegal Gillnet
Sea Shepherd crew rescued a whale entangled in an illegal totoaba gillnet in the Gulf of California. Sea Shepherd currently has two vessels in Mexico's Gulf of California on OPERATION MILAGRO. Our goal is to save the vaquita porpoises, the most endangered marine mammal. The vaquita are caught as a r...
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
Gregg Lowe on Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro
You might know Gregg Lowe from X-Men: Days of Future Past, but now watch him explain Sea Shepherd's Operation Milagro and understand why we must save the #VaquitaMarina - The most endangered cetacean in the world. Help us save the vaquita at: http://seashepherd.org/milagro2/donate-now/vaquita-appeal...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 11 - Big Fish
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 11 - Big Fish
This week the crew of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ships The Farley Mowat and The Martin Sheen find and retrieve an illegal totoaba bass net from the critically endangered vaquita marina's habitat Watch all episodes at: http://www.seashepherd.org/milagro2/multimedia/videos.html ‪#‎OpMilag...
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 10 - Light up the Dark
Operation Milagro II: Vlog 10 - Light up the Dark
Actor Gregg Lowe crews with Sea Shepherd to help us protect the vaquita. The M/V Farley Mowat lights up the vaquita refuge and deters poacher from laying deadly nets in the vaquita marina's habitat. Watch all episodes at: http://seashepherd.org/milagro2/multimedia
Sea Shepherd Wildlife - False Killer Whales
Sea Shepherd Wildlife - False Killer Whales
The first video of our new series "Sea Shepherd Wildlife". This episode is about one of the lesser know large dolphins - The False Killer Whales. Learn more about these beautiful creatures with the Sea Shepherd crew. Share it with your friends. Video by Carolina A. Castro Narration by Nicole D'Entr...
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat
Sea Shepherd Removes gillnet from Endangered Vaquita Habitat.