Vaquita - A Critically Endangered Species

Vaquita
Vaquita | Source

The Vaquita is one of the most critically endangered species in the world (on the IUCN red list) with less than 200 of them existing now. They are the smallest species of porpoise in the world and are found only in the Northern Gulf of California. They were discovered only in 1958 when three skulls of these porpoises were found on the beaches near San Felipe.

P.S: Before I start, I would like to sat that I am sorry, I have not been able to add many pictures and videos for illustration purposes as very little information is available about this species at the moment(both graphical media and literature). I will be adding more later if I find more or as they become available.

Source

The Other names for Vaquita are:

  • Cochito
  • Gulf of California harbour porpoise
  • Gulf of California Porpoise
  • Gulf Porpoise
  • Vaquita marina

In Spanish, “Vaquita” means “little cow

Scientific Classification (Taxonomy) of the Vaquita:

Suborder: Odontoceti

Family: Phocoenidae

Genus: Phocoena

Species: Phocoena sinus

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Cetacea

Abbreviations and explanation of terms used:

WWFWorld Wildlife Fund

ESAEndangered Species Act

IUCNInternational Union for the Conservation of Nature

CITESConvention on International Trade in the Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna

CIRVAInternational Committee for the Recovery of Vaquita

MMPAMarine Mammal Protection Act

NACAPNorth American Conservation Action Plan

CECCommission for Environmental Cooperation

EDGEEvolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered

SonarSound Navigation and Ranging

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Bycatch – unwanted marine creatures that are caught in the nets while fishing for another species

Porpoise - one of several small gregarious cetacean mammals having a blunt nose and many teeth

Gregarious - tending to form a group with others of the same species

Cetacean - large aquatic carnivorous mammal with fin-like forelimbs no hind limbs

Clicks – sound / signals

Echolocation - determining the location of something by measuring the time it takes for an echo to return from it

Sonar - a measuring instrument that sends out an acoustic pulse in water and measures distances in terms of the time for the echo of the pulse to return

Characteristics and behaviour of the Vaquita:

  • The Vaquita is a very rare species of porpoise and has dark ring around its eyes. There are dark patches on its lips, which form a line from the mouth to their pectoral fins.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Vaquita VaquitaThe eyes and mouth of vaquitaThe vaquitaVaquitaJaws of the vaquita
Vaquita
Vaquita | Source
Vaquita
Vaquita | Source
The eyes and mouth of vaquita
The eyes and mouth of vaquita | Source
The vaquita
The vaquita | Source
Vaquita
Vaquita | Source
Jaws of the vaquita
Jaws of the vaquita | Source
  • The dorsal surface of vaquita is dark grey, its sides are pale grey and the ventral surface is white with light grey marks.
  • They grow up to a size of 1.2 to 1.5 m and weigh around 40 to 55 kg. Females are a bit bigger than the males.
  • They have large flippers (pectoral fins) compared to other porpoises and a tall triangle shaped dorsal fin that is more falcate (curved).
  • They have a smaller skull and a short and broad nose compared to other species.
  • They have little or no beak with their upper jaw slightly protruded

  • They have 16 to 22 pairs of sharp teeth in the upper jaw and 17 to 20 pairs in the lower jaw
  • Due to their larger size, the females are distinguishable from the males.
  • They rise to the surface of water to breathe. This is done by a forward rolling movement, without disturbing the surface of the water, after which they stay in water for long periods of time.
  • They communicate and navigate using sonar and also produce high frequency clicks for echolocation.
  • The vaquitas are solitary and are rarely seen in a group of two or three individuals. Sometimes a group of 8 to 10 have been observed while the largest being observed is 40

Habitat and food of the Vaquita:

  • The vaquita are found in the shallow waters close to the shores along the northern parts of the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez).

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Vaquita distribution rangeRange of VaquitaSightings map of the vaquitaoctopusCroakerGruntSquidCrab
Vaquita distribution range
Vaquita distribution range | Source
Range of Vaquita
Range of Vaquita | Source
Sightings map of the vaquita
Sightings map of the vaquita | Source
octopus
octopus | Source
Croaker
Croaker | Source
Grunt
Grunt | Source
Squid
Squid | Source
Crab
Crab | Source
  • They live in shallow waters along the coasts, and sometimes in very shallow lagoons 6 m deep, so sometimes their back protrudes out of water.
  • They are otherwise found in depths of 10 to 50 m and 10 to 25 km off the coast.
  • They can be seen mostly in turbid (cloudy, not clear) waters due to the reason that they contain more nutrient contents and also attract small fish, cephalapods like octopus and squid, croakers, grunts and other crustaceans like crab which are food for the vaquita.
  • They use echolocation to find locate their prey and also by sound given off by the movements of the prey. They feed on a variety of fish that live in shallow waters
  • Their only natural predators are the sharks

Reproduction in Vaquita:

  • Vaquitas mature when they are between 3 to 6 years old.
  • The gestation period is 10 to 11 months and they give birth to a calf in the spring season. The calf is 0.7 to 0.8 m long and weighs around 7.5 kg.
  • The newborn are dark in colour with a grey band running from the head to the dorsal flukes (Either of the two lobes of the tail of a cetacean). The colour lightens as they grow or mature.
  • The young one is nursed for 6 to 8 months.
  • They give birth once every two years and live up to approximately 21 years

Importance of the Vaquita:

  • The vaquita live in a habitat in the Gulf of California which has a large marine ecosystem with high biodiversity.
  • Vaquita form a small percentage of the diet for sharks and hence extinction of vaquita may have a negative effect on shark population
  • Also, extinction of vaquita may lead to increase or even over population of the vaquita prey like squid, benthic fish and other crustaceans

Main threats and reasons why the Vaquita are critically endangered:

  • The main threat for vaquitas is fisheries by-catch or entanglement in fishing equipment. They get caught in gillnets that are laid to capture the endangered fish (illegal) called totoaba (large sea bass), sharks, rays, scombrids and other fish and also in trawlnets laid to capture shrimps. They mostly die by drowning because they cannot get to surface to breathe.

Why are Vaquita Disappearing?

  • The vaquita population of 567 in 1997 has declined tremendously to just around 150 in 2007 although they have not been hunted. It is believed that this number could be even lower now.
  • The low population of vaquitas has led to a high possibility of inbreeding, which will affect the health of the species leading to decline in population. Further decline will also mean that there will be no contacts between individual male and female vaquitas which will lessen the rate of reproduction.
  • Other threats include pollution and conversion of habitat by humans.
  • The food supply of the vaquita depends on the level of water available in the vaquita habitat. Dams constructed across the Colarado river have decreased the flow and level of water thereby decreasing the amount of food available for the vaquita. This has led to issues with reproduction capabilities. The fresh water also contains pesticides and chemical fertilizers as its tributaries pass through the agricultural lands of Southern California and the Mexicali Valley, which will have a detrimental effect on the health and reproductive capacities of the vaquitas.
  • Gillnet ban across the entire vaquita habitat will be the only possible solution to save the vaquita population and this will also help prevent other species in this habitat from bycatch and overfishing.

Conservation efforts taken to protect and conserve the Vaquita:

  • WWF is working towards protective measures to help the vaquitas survive in their natural habitat, which is by eliminating the threats of bycatch.

  • WWF also works with the local governments and fishermen in developing fishing equipment that will eliminate vaquita bycatch.
  • WWF is conducting researches to find out the exact population size of vaquita.
  • Mexico has created CIRVA that is working on conservation efforts, using the laws that will prevent the use of fishing nets in the vaquita’s habitat as the vaquita are endemic only to the Gulf of California.
  • CIRVA estimated in the year 2000 that around 39 to as many as 84 vaquitas are killed each year because of drowning in gillnets and trawl nets and it is working in partnership with CITES, ESA and MMPA to nurse the vaquita population and bring them to a level where they can sustain themselves

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Vaquita bycatchVaquita caught in fishing nets
Vaquita bycatch
Vaquita bycatch | Source
Vaquita caught in fishing nets
Vaquita caught in fishing nets | Source
  • The government of Mexico established a nature reserve in 1993 called the Upper Gulf of California Biosphere Reserve, for protecting the vaquitas. It covers the upper part of the Gulf of California and the delta of the Colarado River, but CIRVA recommends the extension of this nature reserve to the entire vaquita habitat. This is not a very easy law to implement as this will affect the lives of so many people who depend on fishing in this region.
  • The NACAP was launched by the U.S, Canada and Mexico under the jurisdiction of CEC to support the efforts of Mexico to protect, conserve and recover the vaquita population.
  • The Mexican government is taking measures and establishing plans to provide alternative livelihood options for the fishermen and to enforce removal of the fishing nets.
  • Plans to device new autonomous acoustic monitoring methods are in progress as the vaquita are rare and normal acoustic methods have failed to help with monitoring them.
  • The Mexican government has also started a Vaquita Recovery Plan since 2007 to protect the Vaquitas

Facts about the Vaquita:

  • The vaquitas are timid mammals and swim away if they see or sense a boat approaching and hence are very difficult to observe
  • They are the only porpoise that live in the warm waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean and they tolerate temperature fluctuations from 20o C to 36o C.
  • They are the most endangered cetaceans in the world that are distinct, with no close relatives and is on the top 100 list on EDGE
  • They are a priority species for WWF, which means they are the most ecologically, economically and culturally important species
  • If the bycatch issues continue, Vaquitas may become extinct by 2015, that is a short span of JUST TWO YEARS
  • Vaquita do not survive in captivity
  • Some people claim that the vaquita is just a mythical creature and not real.
  • They swim and feed in a leisurely manner (they are cool :-) )

About the Vaquita

What can you do to help protect and conserve the Vaquita?


This is the first time, I have heard about the Vaquita and they are such beautiful and gentle creatures. We have less than 2 years to act on this issue. We may not be directly involved in anything related to the vaquita, but we can at least spread the word and stop these beautiful porpoise from going extinct.

Let us all remember, Extinction is Forever; Let us NOT let that happen!!!

Thank you for stopping by. Please leave your thoughts, experiences and feedback on this hub. If there are any errors, please feel free to feedback.

If you know more about this species, please feel free to share.

Thank you.

Livingsta

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Comments 30 comments

livingsta profile image

livingsta 2 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello Kidscrafts,

Sorry for not responding sooner. I have been tied up with so many things. I am glad that you finally made it. I will have a look :)

Thank you and all the best. I trust that you are well :)


kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

Hi Livingsta! Finally, I translated the pictures of several endangered species on my French "pinterest". Sorry that it took so long!


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Rose, thank you for stopping by. I am glad this was an interesting and useful read for you. Thank you for the votes. Have a good day :-)


rose-the planner profile image

rose-the planner 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

Great article! This exceptionally beautiful creature is news to me. Until now I had never heard of the Vaquita before. It truly saddens me to see such a stunning species like the Vaquita virtually extinct. I am glad that through your writing you are bringing awareness to so many people. The images are fascinating. Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Kathryn, thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts on this. I did not know about these beautiful porpoises either, until I started to write this series on critically endangered species. I am glad that you found this interesting. Thank you.

You too have a great day Kathryn.

Dahlia :-)


Kathryn Stratford profile image

Kathryn Stratford 3 years ago from Manchester, Connecticut

I have never heard of this beautiful creature, and it is sad that they are so close to being gone forever. Thanks for letting us know about them, as well as ways to help. You have done so much research on it- it's amazing! You have carved out quite the niche for yourself.

Have a wonderful day, Livingsta!

~ Kathryn


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello Starstream, thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I will have a look at the hub you have mentioned here and thank you so much for linking this to your hub. Have a great week ahead :-)


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hello Jared, thank you. I am glad that you enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing this hub, and have a great week ahead :-)


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Rajan, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. Thank you also for the votes and share. Have a great week ahead my friend :-)


starstream profile image

starstream 3 years ago from Northern California

Thanks for sharing all of this detailed information on these wonderful porpoises! I love your photo. It really shows the beauty of these beautiful creatures. I am planning to link your hub with one of mine which talks about ancient plant species and effort to save them.


Jared Miles profile image

Jared Miles 3 years ago from Australia

Congratulations livingsta, on your Hub, particularly with the limited information you had at your disposal. I appreciate that you try so hard to ensure the continued survival of the vaquita, and so I'll be sharing this Hub to help make this possible.


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 3 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

I haven't heard of this fish. They do resemble the dolphins in shape somewhat. Interesting and useful info. Voted as such and shared.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Azrestoexp, thank you so much for the support. I am glad that you found this useful. Thank you for the vote. Have a great weekend! :-)


azrestoexp profile image

azrestoexp 3 years ago

Once again, have never heard of this animal. You are truly special!!! Please keep raising awareness like billybuc said. As intelligent as we humans like to think we are, we seem to be "missing the boat" somewhere along the line. So sad. Thanks for a very moving hub. Voted up.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Prasadjain, thank you for the visit and sharing your views and thoughts on this. I am glad that you found this information useful! Have a great rest of the week!


prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 3 years ago from Tumkur

A very useful hub based on good research and a concern to make the people know about the almost extinct species.

Disappearing of every species of animal or plant will have some effect on the other forms of life living in the neighborhood.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Toknowinfo, thank you for the visit. I am pleased that you found this interesting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns and for sharing. Have a good day :-)


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 3 years ago

This is a beautiful and very informative hub. I thank you for educating me about this unique species. I hope they are saved from extinction too. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and putting all the work into this article. Definitely sharing!


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Arun, thank you for reading and sharing your concerns. Yes, I am sure, we can save them. I hope the efforts taken are effective enough to stop them from going extinct. Hope you had a good week so far!


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Agusfanani, thank you for stopping by. It is true, we do not want to see them go away, so I only wish that something is done immediately to save these beautiful creatures. I am glad that you found this useful and interesting. Hope you had a good week !


agusfanani profile image

agusfanani 3 years ago from Indonesia

Very interesting and useful information and this beautiful creature really needs to be saved. It will be a big loss if Vaquita extinct and next generations don't have the opportunity to know it.


ARUN KANTI profile image

ARUN KANTI 3 years ago from KOLKATA

It is really heartening to know your concern for saving the vaquita-porpoise, the most endangered species, from extinction. We must develop an awareness of how the beautiful animals can be preserved. Thank you very much for your excellent and well researched hub. Have a wonderful week.


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi sgbrown, thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts on this. As you say, something needs to be done immediately. Thank you for the votes, share and pin. Have a great day :-)


sgbrown profile image

sgbrown 3 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

I was aware of the vaquita, but I didn't know it was in such danger of extinction. Man strikes again! This is such a shame. I know many families depend on fishing these waters, but something must be done quickly to keep these wonderful animals from becoming extinct. I am glad to hear that Mexico is also trying to help. Awareness is important and you have done a very good job here! Voting up, interesting, sharing and pinning! :)


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi kidscrafts , thank you. This is interesting to know :-)

So many words are of Latin origin aren't they? Thank you for sharing this information with us. It was useful!


kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

I know that you explained the word "porpoise" in your hub with other words as well but I wanted to know more about it and I learned that the word "porpoise" comes from the French word "pourpois" (that I didn't know either and that I can't find). But it seems that it comes from Medieval Latin it would mean "sea hog". In French, the word "hog" is translated by "porc".

I will let you know when the board will be ready in French :-)


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi kidscrafts, great to see you and your support always. They are beautiful, aren't they?

I was new to the word "porpoise" too and hence the reason why I usually give an explanation of terms at the start.

It is sad, and this low number with such a small habitat confined to one small part of the world is worrying. I am glad that you liked this.

I did have a look at your new board, and thank you so much for the pins :-). I am following it now. Please do let me know when you start the French one. Is it another Pinterest account itself?

Thank you again!

Hope you had a good weekend. Have a great day and a great week ahead.


kidscrafts profile image

kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

Great article about the Vaquita. I never heard of them before. They are so beautiful!

I had to search for the word "porpoise"... a new word in my English vocabulary :-)

I was not surprised to hear that their biggest threat is the entanglement in fishing equipment. I heard it's a problem for the dolphins as well! What a pity!

Thank you for another great article about endangered species!

Have a great day!

PS : I started a "endangered species" board on Pinterest in English. I am a little slow but with time it will be there in French on my other Pinterest account :-)


livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi Bill, thank you so much. I too hadn't heard of them before and they are so beautiful and gentle creatures. It must be because they are endemic to such a small region in the world. Thank you so much for your support always. It cheers me up :-)

Hope you had a lovely weekend my friend and having a great start to this week.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Simply amazing...I have never heard of them. How can this be? Such beautiful creatures. Something must be done my friend. Keep writing about this and keep raising awareness....you are doing something very good with these articles.

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