Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order – Artiodactyla
Infraorder - Cetacea
Family – Phocoenidae
Genus - Phocoena
Species – P. sinus
Common Name – Vaquita (Spanish for “little cow”), Cochito (Spanish for “sow” or “pig”), Gulf of California Porpoise, Desert Porpoise, Gulf Porpoise
The vaquita is a very cautious animal that is not easily observed in the wild. Thus, many of its habits are not well known. It tends to travel alone or in small groups, and it avoids boats and other vessels. When it surfaces to breathe it disturbs the water very little, and it often submerges for long periods of time.
Not much is known about the breeding habits of the vaquita, though it is believed to be similar to the harbor porpoise in this respect. They are thought to breed in the early summer, with gestation lasting about 11months. Birthing happens in early spring, February to April, though Vaquitas probably do not breed every year. They typically give birth to a single calf, and females will nurse their young for up to eight months.
Vaquita are quite small, even for porpoises, and don’t exceed five feet in length. They have a thickset body type typical of porpoises, though their dorsal fins are relatively large. Like most of their kin they lack a pronounced “beak”. They are gray above, with lighter coloration below, and have dark markings at the front of their face around the mouth, as well as a dark ring encircling the eye. There may also be dark stripes running from the lower jaw to their pectoral fins, though these are not always present.
The vaquita is the only species of porpoise that lives in warm waters, and is only found in the northwestern tip of the Gulf of California in Mexico.
While it is not known exactly how abundant they were prior to their current decline, the estimated size of the population in the 1930s is believed to be around 5,000. Though vaquita are not specifically targeted for hunting and, they were unfortunately often caught in nets targeting another species: a fish known as the totoaba. From the 1920s to the 940s, the commercial fishery for totoaba caused immense damage to the vaquita population. The fish is now itself endangered due to overfishing, and commercial fishing was stopped in the 1970s, though it is still hunted illegally, causing both the totoaba and vaquita to decline in numbers.