Vaquita

Vaquita

Cochito, Gulf of California harbour porpoise, Gulf of California porpoise, Gulf porpoise, Desert porpoise

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Infraorder
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Phocoena sinus
Population size
below 250
Life Span
20 yrs
WEIGHT
45-50 kg
LENGTH
135-141 cm

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.

Distibution

The area of their distribution is restricted to the northern end of the Gulf of California (Mexico), where these animals inhabit shallow waters, close to the seashore.

Vaquita habitat map

Geography

Continents
Countries

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

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.

Diet and Nutrition

Vaquitas are carnivores (piscivores). Feeding at the water’s surface, this animal mainly consumes teleost fish, squid and crustaceans.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
mid-April to May
PREGNANCY DURATION
10-11 months
BABY CARRYING
1 calf
INDEPENDENT AGE
6-8 months
FEMALE NAME
cow
MALE NAME
bull
BABY NAME
calf

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.

Population

Population threats

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.

Population number

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.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Vaquita is the only porpoise, living in warm waters such as these of the Gulf of California: porpoises inhabit cooler waters, typically lower than 20 degrees Celsius. Another distinctive feature of Vaquita is its ability of tolerating large annual fluctuations in temperature, which is also uncommon in porpoises. The temperature of water in the Gulf of Mexico, where these animals are found, varies from 14 degrees C in winter to 36 degrees C in summer.
  • Along with using clicks, this animal emits a very harsh and loud sound, similar to that of harbor porpoise.
  • Living murky waters, this animal cannot find prey by only using its eyesight. Hence, Vaquita uses echolocation, emitting high-pitched sounds, which pass through the water and bounce, bringing information on the size and type of a given object and helping determine whether it's edible or not.
  • These shy animals do not tend to jump out of water or even swim at the surface. Moreover, they usually avoid vessels and humans.
  • Vaquitas have black lips and black rings around their eyes. According to scientists, this is due to catching their food.

References

1. Vaquita Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaquita
2. Vaquita on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/17028/0

More Fascinating Animals to Learn About