Cochito, Gulf of California harbour porpoise, Gulf of California porpoise, Gulf porpoise, Desert porpoise
Vaquitas are record-holders among all cetaceans. Thus, these animals are the smallest cetaceans, meanwhile being the smallest porpoises; they have the smallest range; and finally, Vaquitas are the most critically endangered cetacean species in the world. ‘Vaquita’ is a Spanish word meaning "little cow". The scientific name of this animal means “porpoise of the gulf”, as this cetacean is endemic to Mexico. Vaquitas are a quite recently discovered species: they were first identified in 1958 based on skulls and were first observed in 1985.
Vaquitas can be found solitarily, in pairs as well as in groups, consisting up to 7 individuals. These shy and secretive animals do not tend to perform acrobatic maneuvers. When coming to the surface to breathe, they move slowly and are quite difficult to spot, barely disturbing the surface and diving back into the water. As common in cetaceans, these animals are known to use echolocation when looking for prey. However, some species of fish these cetaceans consume, give out specific sounds, suggesting that Vaquitas are likely to find them due to these sound instead of using echolocation. They also use echolocation when communication with conspecifics in areas with murky waters.
Vaquitas are polygynous, which means that one male gets exclusive right to mating with multiple females. They mate from mid-April to May and give birth to a single calf, usually in the early March, after a gestation period of approximately 10 - 11 months. The newborn calf is nursed by its mother for 6 - 8 months, reaching sexual maturity at 3 - 6 years old.
Presently, the primary threat to this Critically Endangered species is commercial and artisanal fishing. These animals are known to become entangled in the gill nets and trawl nets, used by fisheries, which endanger lives of 39 - 84 Vaquitas every year. In addition, because of the extremely small number of population, Vaquitas are threatened with interbreeding. Other notable concerns include environmental pollution and degradation of their natural habitat.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population of Vaquita includes less than 250 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR), and its numbers are decreasing.