Vaquita
Phocoena sinus
Threat Index

Max Length:
Male: 1.45 m
Female: 1.50 m
Calf: 0.80 m

Max Weight:
Female: 50 kg

Est. Population: 500

Diet: fish, squid

IUCN Listing: CR
CMS Appendix: Not Listed
CITES Appendix: I
Synonym:
Vaquita, Gulf of California harbour porpoise, Gulf porpoise

Related Projects:
WDCS Supported project in Mexico

Classification:
Vaquitas are possibly the smallest marine cetacean and have the most limited distribution. They also have the unenviable label of being one of the most endangered cetaceans and are rarely seen in the wild. In Spanish, vaquita means 'little cow' and many local people believe them to be 'mythical creatures' as most have never seen one and photographs, until recently, were lacking.

Appearance:
The vaquita has a complex patterning and colour variations in individuals are common. Like the other porpoises, the vaquita has virtually no beak and between 32 and 44 teeth in the upper jaw and 34 to 40 in the lower. Their bodies are robust in build and medium to dark grey on the back, sometimes appearing tawny or olive brown. Vaquitas have a black patch around each eye, and the mouth area is dark. Their bellies are paler grey or white. A dark grey stripe runs from their mouth, down their chin, and widens where the flippers, which are small and broad, meet their body. Vaquita's dorsal fins are shark-like being tall and triangular and the species can be confused with bottlenose and common dolphins which are also present in their range.

Behaviour:
Vaquitas surface slowly and dive smoothly, often staying underwater for some time. They are not often observed at the surface but when they are, their movements are calm and smooth. When they blow they can make a loud noise similar to that of a harbour porpoise. Vaquitas are usually encountered alone or in groups of up to five. A group of 40 was once recorded, but this is unusual. They are very shy and avoid boats whenever possible.

Distribution:
Vaquitas are found in the northern end of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez), within a 48km radius. They live in shallow water along the shoreline, often in shallow lagoons. Their range may stretch further south along the Mexican mainland and movements may be seasonal. Vaquitas are on the brink of extinction and the worldwide population is estimated as between 100 to 500. In 1993, the Mexican government established the Upper Gulf of California Biosphere Reserve to protect vaquitas and their habitat. IUCN lists this species as Critically Endangered. The major threat to the vaquita is entanglement in fishing nets (specifically gillnets) whilst habitat loss, climate change and chemical pollution are also concerns.
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Photos taken under permit (Oficio No. DR/488/08) from the Secretaria de Medio Ambiente y Resursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), within a natural protected area subject to special management and decreed as such by the Mexican Government.