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Vaquita holds a number of titles, including the title of rarest marine mammal and the smallest native range.

Vaquita Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Phocoenidae

Genus: Phocoena

Scientific Name: Phocoena sinus

Vaquita Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

Vaquita Locations: North-America, Ocean

Vaquita Facts

Prey: Fish, crustaceans, squid

Main Prey: Sharks

Group Behavior: School

Fun Fact: Smallest cetacean in the ocean

Estimated Population Size: 10

Biggest Threat: By-catch

Most Distinctive Feature: No beak, dark rings around eyes

Other Name(s): Little cow

Gestation Period: 11 months

Water Type: SaltHabitatOcean

Predators: Sharks

Diet: Omnivore

Type: Cetacean

Common Name: Vaquita

Vaquita Physical Characteristics

Colour: Grey

Skin Type: Skin

Lifespan: 240

Weight: 90 lbs

Length: 4-5 feet

Vaquita Summary

Among its fellow cetaceans, the vaquita holds many records, including being the smallest and rarest of all recognized marine mammals. Researchers didn’t have a live specimen to examine until the 1980s, so this porpoise population was only recently found and cataloged. Vaquitas are a kind of species that can only be found in a small region near the Gulf of California’s northern end, known as the Sea of Cortez. Despite the lack of knowledge about the genetics and nature of these species, conservationists remain certain that they are on the verge of extinction.

3 Vaquita Facts

  • Rare records: Vaquita holds a number of titles, including the title of rarest marine mammal and the smallest native range.
  • Eye shadow: The dark shading around the eyes is a distinguishing characteristic of the species that helps to recognize it in the wild.
  • Collateral damage: Accidental deaths in fishnets intended to capture other predators are almost solely to blame for the species’ imminent extinction.

Vaquita Classification and Scientific Name

Vaquita is a Spanish term that means “little cow,” referring to its diminutive size in comparison to other porpoise species. The little cow is closely related to other sea animals such as dolphins and whales as a cetacean. Phocoena sinus is the scientific name for the genus, which simply means “porpoise from the Gulf of California.” The animal’s only known natural refuge is this gulf. They belong to the Mammalia class and are members of the Phocoenidae tribe.

Vaquita Appearance

The little cow is aptly named as the world’s smallest cetacean animal. Adults reach a length of 4 to 5 feet and weigh 60 to 120 pounds when fully grown. In comparison to their age, they have a broad and angular dorsal fin. Females are somewhat taller than males, but their dorsal fins are less conspicuous. They, like dolphins and other sea mammals, would surface to breathe on a regular basis.

Their slender bodies have a triangular shape and no discernible beak, giving them a distinct appearance from their dolphin relatives. The body of the vaquita is mainly grey, with darker skin on top and lighter skin on the belly. They even have personality.

Vaquita Distribution, Population, and Habitat

Vaquita has the dubious distinction of being the world’s rarest marine mammal as well as having the smallest geographical radius. Just in the comparatively sheltered waters of the Sea of Cortez, a saltwater body at the northern end of the Gulf of California, have they been discovered? The gulf offers enough protection from the Pacific’s stronger ocean currents, as well as instability caused by hurricanes and the greater predators that inhabit those waters.

Vaquitas are small animals that prefer deeper water and swim within 500 feet of the surface. This is one of the reasons that they are especially vulnerable to gill nets and other commercial fishing activities in their local area. Many vaquitas have died as a result of being trapped in illicit traps intended to catch endangered totoaba drum fish, shrimps, and other marine animals over the past few decades. Apart from bycatch in fishing nets, these small marine mammals face a variety of threats, including contamination and destruction of local food supplies.

According to conservationists and scholars, there are only about 10 vaquitas remaining in the wild, prompting their status as critically endangered. Despite the widespread public interest, support, and international engagement, recent attempts to relocate and protect members of the species have failed. According to experts, the species could become extinct as soon as 2021. Here you can learn more about the world’s most endangered species.

Vaquita Predators and Prey

Predators: What Eats Vaquita

Researchers have struggled to determine the specifics of the vaquita’s position in the local food chain due to insufficient observation. According to reports from fishermen, certain shark species feed on the animal, but this isn’t considered to be a significant factor in the animal’s extinction. The Gulf of California is home to both great white sharks and whale sharks. They aren’t considered to be a priority for modern recreational or commercial fishing.

Prey: The Little Cow’s Diet

Vaquitas, including dolphins and other cetaceans, are generalist carnivores. They eat a number of local fish, with croakers and other benthic fish species accounting for a significant portion of their diet. If they can find them, they can eat squids and crustaceans.

Vaquita Reproduction and Lifespan

Vaquitas are relatively slow to reproduce, which only worsened the recent population crisis. Limited observations of the animals’ behavior indicate that males compete for the attention of the larger females. Potential mothers are thought to give birth every other year to a single calf after a 10 to 11-month pregnancy. Calves are usually around 2.5 feet long and about 15 pounds in weight when they are born. These marine mammals are believed to have a lifespan that can extend over 20 years and adult females reach sexual maturity at 3 to 6 years old.

Vaquita in Fishing and Cooking

The vaquita itself has not been targeted either recently or historically by commercial fisheries. However, they are particularly susceptible to gill nets used to hunt the local totoaba fish. These fish are also critically endangered and protected by the Mexican government, but illegal fishing operations persist fueled by demand for the animal’s air bladder in Asian markets.

Vaquita Population

It’s virtually impossible to ascertain the exact number of vaquita individuals left in the Gulf, but scientists have several ways of tracking and estimating their numbers. Total numbers have been in sharp decline over the last few decades. Researchers estimated a population of around 200 individuals in 2008, but this number fell to less than 30 in 2016 and was thought to be around 10 as of 2020.

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