Nearing Extinction: The Dying Vaquita

introduction & Physical Features

The Vaquita is a shy member of the porpoise family. Vaquitas are the most endangered of the world’s marine mammals. Less than 30 Vaquitas remain in the wild, and entanglement in Gillnets is driving the species toward extinction. Vaquitas have the smallest range of any whale, dolphin, or porpoise. They only live in the northern part of the Gulf of California (picture below), an area that is rich in fish and shrimp. Fishing is thus a major source of income for the people there, who almost exclusively use Gillnets, but Vaquitas can also become accidentally wrapped in the nets and drown.

The Vaquita is about 5 feet long - females are longer than males, but males have larger fins. Vaquitas have small, strong bodies with a rounded head and no beak. They have black patches around their eyes and lips and small, spade-shaped teeth. Vaquitas also have triangle-shaped dorsal fins in the middle of their backs, which are taller and wider than in other porpoises. These fins might allow Vaquitas to reduce their body temperatures in warm water. Its top—the dorsal surface—is dark gray, its sides are pale gray, and its underside—the ventral surface—is white with long, light gray markings. Newborn Vaquita have darker coloration and a wide gray fringe of color that runs from the head to the flukes, passing through the dorsal and pectoral fins. They are most often found close to shore in the Gulf's shallow waters, although they quickly swim away if a boat approaches.

Diet & Behavior

Vaquitas are often found alone or in pairs. These shy animals usually avoid boats with active engines. They are difficult to observe because of their small size, inconspicuous and slow surface rolls, small group size, and avoidance of motorized vessels.  

Vaquitas feed on small fish, crustaceans (such as shrimp), and cephalopods (such as squid and octopuses).

Lifespan & Reproduction

Vaquitas can live for at least 21 years. They reach sexual maturity when they are 3 to 6 years old. Pregnancy lasts about 10 to 11 months, and females are thought to give birth every other year to a single calf that is about 2.5 feet long and 16 pounds. Females usually give birth between February and April.

Decline in Species

This little porpoise wasn't discovered until 1958 and a little over half a century later, we are on the brink of losing them forever!

Although we know that the Vaquita population has been decreasing since the first full abundance estimate in 1997, it is likely that the population has been decreasing since Gillnets started being used in the 1940s. Between 1997 and 2008, Vaquitas decreased at about 8 percent per year, a figure consistent with the estimated decline that would result from the amount of gillnetting for shrimp and finfish. Acoustic monitoring between 2011 and 2016 recorded an increased rate of decline to about 40 percent per year - Vaquitas are often caught and drowned in Gillnets used by illegal fishing operations in marine protected areas within Mexico's Gulf of California. The population has dropped drastically in the last few years. The estimated number remaining in November 2016 was about 30 individuals, making Vaquitas the most endangered marine mammal in the world.


You watch for yourself!


Context: A video taken by a fisherman reveals that there is one less Vaquita porpoise in the upper Gulf of California. Footage sent to the newspaper Reforma shows a lifeless Vaquita in a fishing net. The sender said that the marine mammal became trapped in the net on Sunday or Monday, days when fishermen are active in the region. It was the first time the fatal impact of fishing nets has been caught on camera. Once trapped, the Vaquitas are unable to return to the surface for air and drown if not freed in time.The fishing net in the video appears to be a No. 8, a type of net used illegally to fish for Totoaba, which is prized in China for its swim bladder’s alleged medicinal and aphrodisiacal qualities. With prices so high that the fish has been nicknamed “the cocaine of the sea,” Totaba fishing has been responsible for decimating Vaquita populations. Scientists from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reported last March that only 10 members of the species were estimated to remain in the wild.

Program Helping The Cause - NOAA

1. NOAA Fisheries is committed to the protection and recovery of the Vaquita. We have focused our conservation efforts on totally eliminating fishing with Gillnets within Vaquita habitat. NOAA Fisheries, the international recovery team (CIRVA) and the Mexican government recognize that saving Vaquitas will require the following actions:

  • Permanently banning all Gillnets throughout the Vaquitas’ range.

  • Stopping illegal fishing.

  • Using passive acoustics to annually test the effectiveness of Vaquita conservation actions.

  • Bringing as many Vaquitas as possible into human care until Gillnets are no longer a threat within Vaquitas’ habitat.

Learn more about our conservation efforts

2. NOAA Fisheries has provided technical expertise in a close collaboration with Mexican researchers for over 30 years. Early necropsies provided life history and all abundance estimates, both visual and acoustic, have been close collaborations. The ability to closely monitor this rare and cryptic species has been essential timely science upon which the Government of Mexico can make critical management decisions. Our collaborative work includes:

  • Stock assessments.

  • Ship-based visual monitoring.

  • Acoustic monitoring.

  • Genetic research.

Learn more about our research

How can you help?

1. One of the main threats to the Vaquita is entanglement in fishing gear, especially Gillnets. Fishermen sometimes catch and discard animals they do not want, cannot sell, or are not allowed to keep. This is collectively known as bycatch.

Learn more about bycatch >

2. Call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964 to report a federal marine resource violation. This hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone in the United States.

You may also contact your closest NOAA Office of Law Enforcement field office during regular business hours.

Sourced From/More Information:

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Article 2:,whale%2C%20dolphin%2C%20or%20porpoise.

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