Vaquitas are the rarest sea mammal in the world and it is feared that they may become extinct by 2018.
Amazing Facts About the Vaquita
- The Vaquita, also known as ‘cochito’, ‘vaquita marina’ and ‘Gulf of California harbour porpoise’, exists in only one place in the world, the Gulf of California. This narrow body of water is nestled between the second longest peninsula in the world, Baja California (translated from Spanish meaning ‘below’ or ‘south’ California) and the north west coast of mainland Mexico.
- Vaquita can be translated from Spanish to mean ‘little cow’.
- They are the rarest sea mammal in existence.
- Vaquitas are likened to porpoises and often confused with dolphins, but they are smaller, have a chunkier body and have a rounded head with no snout.
- They have a dark grey upper body which fades into a pale grey belly. They have striking faces with thick dark colouring around their eyes and on their lips giving the appearance they are wearing makeup.
- Their pectoral (chest) and dorsal (back) fins are distinctively larger than that of other porpoises.
- Female vaquitas up to 5ft (1.52m) are larger than males vaquitas that have been measured only up to 4.6ft (1.40m).
- Dolphins, whales and vaquitas are all in the same family known as cetaceans, which are large sea mammals characterised by their appearance, intelligence and carnivorous (meat eating) diets. They also need to come to the surface to breathe.
- The vaquita is the smallest cetacean on earth and is a cousin of the largest animal in the world, the blue whale.
- They feast on fish, prawns and crabs but are known to have particular preference for squid.
- Unlike dolphins that will follow boats, vaquitas are shy, private creatures and as such very little is known about them. In fact, these little sea creatures were not discovered until as late as 1958 when three vaquita skulls were discovered on a beach.
- Although they tend to spend their time in the shallow waters of the coast line or in the open sea no more than 25km (16 mi) from shore, they are so timid that it is very lucky spot a vaquita. The closest sighting has been from a far distance of 300ft [90m].
- Since they are elusive, not much is known about the social behaviour or the reproductive cycle of the vaquita. Sightings have reported small groups of 2-4, larger groups of up to 10 and even solitary vaquitas.
- Vaquitas can communicate with each other and navigate using sonar.
- Sadly, the vaquita is classified as critically endangered with less than 100 thought to survive.
- The fishing industry, pollution and habitat destruction from the dam built in the Colorado River threaten its survival.
- Illegal fishing for an exotic fish, the totoaba is the biggest threat to the Vaquita. The gillnets used frequently entangle and drown vaquitas.
- Last year in 2015, the Mexican Government banned the use of the gillnets for two years and many conservation efforts are underway which will hopefully save these timid beauties before they are lost to history.
- Estimates suggest that vaquitas may become extinct by 2018.
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- Type: Mammal
- Diet: Carnivore
- Life span: Unknown (estimated up to 21 years)
- Weight: Up to 120lbs (54kg)
- Size: Length- female 5ft (1.5m) and males 4.6ft (1.4m)
- Habitat: Shallow coastal waters
- Range: Only in the nothern most area of the Gulf of California
- Scientific name: Phocoena sinus