Phocoena sinus

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The Vaquita appears similar to the Harbor Porpoise but is considerably smaller, with adults measuring no more than 4.5 feet (1.37 m) in length. The body is predominately gray but fades to white closer to the tail. Dark rings encircle the eyes and dark patches are found on the sides of the mouth. The head is rounded with a small, almost indistinguishable beak.

Like most cetaceans, Vaquitas live in family units called pods and work cooperatively to hunt crustaceans, squid and octopus. They become sexually mature between 3 and 6 years of age and females will typically produce a single calf every year.

Their Spanish name translates to “little cow.”

Range and Habitat

The Vaquita has an extremely limited range, occurring only in the northern end of the Gulf of California (Mexico). They frequently forage in bays and lagoons, which often puts them into close contact with various human-related hazards such as boats and fishing nets. It is believed that their historical range once extended south along the Mexican coastline to the Tres Marias Islands and Banderas Bay.

Conservation Status

This small cetacean has risen to prominence in recent years as one of the most critically endangered species in the world. Although the Vaquita was never intentionally hunted, they are frequent victims of bycatch in fishing nets. Combined with their already limited population, low birth rate and poor genetic diversity, the porpoise’s numbers have continued to drop since the 1940s.

The Mexican government established a bio-reserve and enacted protective legislation to help the Vaquita, but illegal fishing practices and weak enforcement have hampered the species’ recovery. As of 2015, it was estimated that only 80 individuals remain and, without major intervention, it is they will be declared extinct in the next few years.