Science, Tech, Math › Animals & Nature Facts About the Endangered Vaquita Gulf of California Harbor Porpoise Share Flipboard Email Print Wikimedia Commons Animals & Nature Marine Life Marine Life Profiles Marine Habitat Profiles Sharks Key Terms Amphibians Birds Habitat Profiles Mammals Reptiles Wildlife Conservation Insects Forestry Dinosaurs Evolution View More By Jennifer Kennedy Marine Science Expert M.S., Resource Administration and Management, University of New Hampshire B.S., Natural Resources, Cornell University Jennifer Kennedy, M.S., is an environmental educator specializing in marine life. She serves as the executive director of the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation. our editorial process Jennifer Kennedy Updated March 16, 2020 The vaquita (Phocoena sinus), also known as the Gulf of California harbor porpoise, cochito or Marsopa vaquita is the smallest cetacean. It is also one of the most endangered, with only about 250 remaining. The word vaquita means "small cow" in Spanish. Its species name, sinus is Latin for "gulf" or "bay," referring to the vaquita's small range, which is restricted to coastal waters off the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Vaquitas were discovered fairly recently - the species was first identified based on skulls in 1958 and live specimens were not observed until 1985. Description Vaquitas are about 4-5 feet long, and weigh about 65-120 pounds. Vaquitas are gray, with darker gray on their back and lighter gray on their underside. They have a black eye ring, lips and chin, and pale face. Vaquitas lighten in color as they age. They also have a recognizable triangular-shaped dorsal fin. Vaquitas are shy around vessels, and typically are found singly, in pairs or in small groups of 7-10 animals. They may stay underwater for a long time. The combination of these characteristics can make vaquitas difficult to find in the wild. Classification Kingdom: AnimaliaPhylum: ChordataSubphylum: VertebrataSuperclass: Gnathostomata, TetrapodaClass: MammaliaSubclass: TheriaOrder: CetartiodactylaSuborder: CetancodontaSuborder: OdontocetiInfraorder: CetaceaSuperfamily: OdontocetiFamily: PhocoenidaeGenus: PhocoenaSpecies: sinus Habitat and Distribution Vaquitas have one of the most limited home ranges of all cetaceans. They live in the northern end of the Gulf of California, off the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, in murky, shallow waters within about 13.5 miles of shore. Duke University's OBIS-SEAMAP provides a vaquita sightings map. Feeding Vaquitas feed on schooling fish, crustaceans and cephalopods. Like other odontocetes, they find their prey using echolocation, which is similar to sonar. The vaquita emits high frequency sound pulses from an organ (the melon) in its head. The sound waves bounce off objects around them and are received back into the dolphin's lower jaw, transmitted to the inner ear and interpreted to determine the size, shape, location and distance of prey. Vaquitas are toothed whales, and use their spade-shaped teeth to capture their prey. They have 16-22 pairs of teeth in their upper jaw and 17-20 pairs in their lower jaw. Reproduction Vaquitas are sexually mature at about 3-6 years of age. Vaquitas mate in April-May and calves are born in the months of February-April after a 10-11 month gestation period. Calves are about 2.5 feet long and weigh about 16.5 pounds at birth. The maximum known lifespan of an individual vaquita was a female who lived 21 years. Conservation There are an estimated 245 vaquitas remaining (according to a 2008 study), and the population may be declining by as much as 15% each year. They are listed as "critically endangered" on the IUCN Red List. One of the biggest threats to vaquitas is entanglement or being caught as bycatch in fishing gear, with an estimated 30-85 vaquitas taken incidentally by fisheries each year (Source: NOAA). The Mexican government began developing a Vaquita Recovery Plan in 2007, putting efforts into place to protect the vaquita, although they continue to be affected by fishing. References and Further Information Gerrodette, T., Taylor, B.L., Swift, R., Rankin, S., Jaramillo-Legorreta, A.M., and L. Rojas-Bracho. 2011. TI - A combined visual and acoustic estimate of 2008 abundance, and change in abundance since 1997, for the vaquita, Phocoena sinus. Marine Mammal Science, 27:2, E79-E100.Marine Mammal Commission. Vaquita (Phocoena sinus). Accessed May 31, 2012.NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. 2011. Gulf of California Harbor Porpoise/Vaquita/Cochito (Phocoena sinus). Accessed May 31, 2012.OBIS-SEAMAP. Gulf of California Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena sinus). Accessed May 31, 2012.Perrin, W. (2010). Phocoena sinus Norris & McFarland, 1958. In: Perrin, W.F. World Cetacea Database. Accessed through: World Register of Marine Species at http://www.marinespecies.org/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=343897. Accessed May 31, 2012.Phocoena sinus, In Palomares, M.L.D. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2012. SeaLifeBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. www.sealifebase.org, version (04/2012). Accessed May 31, 2012.Rojas-Bracho, L., Reeves, R.R., Jaramillo-Legorreta, A. & Taylor, B.L. 2008. Phocoena sinus. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. . Accessed May 29, 2012.Rojas-Bracho, L. P. sinus. Accessed May 31, 2012.Vaquita: Last Chance for the Desert Porpoise. Accessed May 31, 2012.Viva Vaquita. Accessed May 31, 2012.