The Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)
By Katherine Meinhold
- It has only been known to science since 1958.
- Vaquita means “little cow” in Spanish.
- Also known as HArbor Porpoises
- At about 5 feet (1.5 m) long, it’s the smallest species of cetacean.
- The vaquita lives only about a 4 hour drive from San Diego.
- Unlike other porpoises, vaquitas give birth only every other year.
- Newborns are born in the spring (March/April).
- They live to be about 20-21 years old.
- Vaquitas have never been held in aquaria.
- It is one of the rarest and most-endangered species of marine mammal in the world.
- Its fate is tied to that of the upper Gulf of California ecosystem.
It Looks Like...
Vaquitas have a large dark rings around their eyes and dark patches on their lips that make a thin line from the mouth to the pectoral fins. Their dorsal surface is dark gray, sides pale gray and ventral surface white with long, light gray markings.
Newborns have darker coloration and a wide gray fringe of color that runs from the head to the dorsal flukes, passing through the dorsal and pectoral fins
What is it's Niche?
Why are the Vaquita endangered?
- Habitat loss and degradation- their habitat has been drastically changed by damming of the Colorado River, coastal development is growing and this hurts the estuaries needed for larvae because they build marinas there, trawl netting destroys the sea floor and its ecology
- Pesticide pollution- tributaries emptying into the Colorado River run through the agricultural areas of Southern California and Mexicali valley
How did the Vaquita become critically endangered?
How can we help?
- Be a responsible consumer- in the Gulf there are no fisheries certified as sustainable, and until that happens we can buy fish and shrimp directly from cooperatives that actively participate in Vaquita conservation efforts. This creates an incentive to stay involved by helping local micro economies thrive. While the region is best known for its shrimp fishery, fishermen engage in a wide array of fisheries that provide great quality products that are harvested responsibly.
- Support groups working in the area- there are a lot of groups working in the field and everyone could use your help. You can get involved by volunteering or doing internships with NGOs. If you can’t go to the Upper Gulf, there are other ways to get involved. Providing economic support to any of the groups involved is always helpful, as is signing petitions and spreading the word about the issues.
- Support local economies- Many fishermen are retiring from fishing and starting new businesses and it is important to support them in their new endeavors. If you travel to the area try to support the businesses. For a list of some of the new businesses in the region you can visit CEDO’s web page, or simply ask around and people will point in the right direction. Remember that the more support these communities receive, the better chance we have of keeping the waters gillnet free.
- Ask questions and spread the word- Word of mouth really does work, and there are people talking about it, you just have to find them. Good Luck!