La Vaquita

Extincts image of a vaquita swimming with a tattooed woman

Literally meaning “little cow” in Spanish, the vaquita is a shy and reclusive porpoise found only in the Gulf of California in northern Mexico. It is the smallest living cetacean in the world, which includes both whales and dolphins, growing up to only 5ft in length (150cm) and weighing just 54kg. Mostly found close to the shore, where it feeds primarily on fish and squid, the vaquita is incredibly shy and the sound of boats usually scares them away.

Identifiable by their dark grey body and a relatively large dorsal fin compared to the rest of their body. It is thought that the reason for such a large dorsal fin is to help dissipate heat as the vaquita lives in much warmer waters than most of their porpoise cousins. If you can get close enough you can spot black patches around their eyes and what looks like black smiling lips around their mouth.

With close to only 10 individuals left in the wild, the IUCN has declared the vaquita Critically Endangered. Only as far back as 1997 the vaquita population was around 600, but since then almost 90% of the population was lost in just the span of five years between 2011 and 2016. Huge efforts are currently underway to ban illegal fishing in the vaquitas habitat, where the biggest threat to the vaquita is fishing, specifically the use of gillnets. These fishing nets hang vertically in the water, trapping all and anything that swims past. 

The Mexican government has banned the use of gillnets in the vaquitas habitat for quite some time, but has since announced a potential relaxing of such restrictions, much to local opposition. But the increase in illegal fishing nets to catch another endangered species, the totoaba fish, has further driven both species to extinction.

Danny Tingle

Writer and editor from England, Danny’s passions are traveling, surfing and the environment. ‘Free Willy’ had a profound effect on him as a kid, setting in motion caring for the planet and always having an insatiable desire to escape. Danny co-founded and edits
www.part-wild.com

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