Fact Sheet
Vaquita
Vaquita (illustration), © Karel Havlicek/National Geographic Creative

Basic Facts About Vaquitas

The vaquita (Phocoena sinus), also known as the Gulf of California harbor porpoise, is the smallest and rarest of the cetaceans - which include whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The vaquita has a gray body with a pale gray or white belly and a dark patch around its eye. They are very rarely seen in the wild.

Diet

Vaquitas eat ocean fish such as Gulf croaker and bronze-striped grunts. They are also known to eat squid.

Population

Approximately 400 to 600 vaquitas may remain in the wild.

Range

Vaquitas have the most restricted range of any marine cetacean. They appear to live only in the northern end of the Gulf of California. The Mexican government created the Upper Gulf of California Biosphere Reserve in 1993 in part to protect vaquita habitat. 

Behavior

Vaquitas use sonar to communicate and navigate Gulf waters. When seen, they are either alone or in small groups of two or three. The vaquita is also the only porpoise species found in such warm waters.

Reproduction
Mating Season:
April to May.
Gestation: 10-11 months.
Number of offspring: 1 calf.
A female will give birth every 2 years or so. Calves are between 28-31 inches long at birth, weighing about 17 lbs.

Threats

The greatest threat to the remaining vaquita is incidental death caused by fishing gear. Vaquitas are known to die in gillnets set for sharks, rays, mackerels and chano, as well as in illegal and occasionally permitted gillnet sets for an endangered fish called totoaba. They are also killed by commercial shrimp trawlers. It is believed that about 30 vaquitas are lost to these threats each year.

Because there are so few vaquita left and they are confined to such a small area, they may also be vulnerable to climate change, which could affect food availability or habitat conditions in the Gulf of California.

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In the Magazine
The pair of stubby-nose porpoises surfaces as though parting a glossy veil. The vaquitas take a quick gulp of air, and then just as suddenly as they appeared, they sink back into the Sea of Cortez’s murky waters.