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Vaquita

Overview

  • Status
    Critically Endangered
  • Population
    Likely fewer than 200 individuals
  • Scientific Name
    Phocoena sinus
  • Height
    Up to 5 feet
  • Weight
    Up to 120 pounds
  • Habitats
    Marine (only in the northern Gulf of California)

In the upper part of Mexico's Gulf of California lives the world's smallest porpoise, the vaquita. Rare and elusive, this little porpoise wasn't discovered until 1958. Today, little is known about them. Vaquitas are most often found close to shore in the Gulf's shallow waters, although they quickly swim away if a boat approaches.

The vaquita has a large dark ring around its eyes and dark patches on its lips that form a thin line from the mouth to the pectoral fins. Its dorsal surface is dark gray, sides pale gray and ventral surface 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 dorsal flukes, passing through the dorsal and pectoral fins.

Vaquita are under threat from the fishing industry. They often die after being caught in gillnets, a problem known as bycatch.

 

Map data provided by IUCN.

15 WWF Success Stories of 2013

As 2013 comes to a close, WWF takes a look back at successes over the past 12 months.

Forest

Why They Matter

  • The vaquita is the most endangered cetacean in the world. With likely fewer than 200 left, the species may go extinct without further protective measures. WWF works to ensure they can live and thrive in their natural habitat.

Threats

  • Population Likely fewer than 200 individuals
  • Extinction Risk Critically Endangered
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

fishing boat

A fishing boat in the Gulf of California.

Vaquitas have natural predators such as sharks, but their greatest threat comes from bycatch, in which they are accidentally caught and drown in gillnets. Since even one vaquita caught is too many, urgent measures must be taken to protect them from this type of fishing gear. Bycatch must be eliminated completely for the species to recover.

What WWF Is Doing

Fin

To save vaquitas, we must eliminate bycatch. WWF has been studying vaquitas for years and working on protective measures, such as developing alternative fishing gear that reduces the threat of accidental vaquita capture. We are working on improving fisheries management in the upper part of the Gulf of California, in order to solve the overall fisheries threat to the vaquita. 

WWF, together with Mexico’s National Fisheries Institute (INAPESCA) and NOAA, developed and pilot tested a different type of trawl net targeting brown shrimp. It contains an excluder device to reduce vaquita bycatch while still effectively catching shrimp. Last year, the net was tested is considered ready for use in the Upper Gulf. We are training fishermen to use the new alternative gear effectively and efficiently.

All vaquita photos on this page by Thomas A. Jefferson from the joint research project with the Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Coordination of the National Institute of Ecology of Mexico. Photo obtained under permit No. DR7488708 of SEMARNAT (Mexican National Commission of Protected Natural Areas).

Experts

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