Act! Join Us Support Our Efforts
Ocean Conservation Marine Life Species Database Education+Careers Projects Contributors Photos Videos News Connect

Vaquitas, Phocoena sinus

VaquitasVaquitasVaquitasVaquitasVaquitasVaquitasVaquitasContribute Photos or VideoContribute Photos or Video

Description & Behavior

ARKive photo - Vaquita calf at the surface Vaquitas, Phocoena sinus (Norris and McFarland, 1958), aka Gulf of California harbor porpoises, reach 1.2 to 1.5 m in length and average 55 kg; females being slightly larger than males. They have between 34-40 "acorn-like" teeth in their jaws of their blunt-shaped beaks. Vaquitas are similar in shape and size to the harbor porpoise, Phocoena phocoena, with the exception of a more slender body shape. Their slender shape is thought to facilitate heat dissipation in the warm waters they inhabit.

Vaquitas have been observed both singly and in small groups, which suggests that they are a less gregarious dolphin species, and perhaps more competitive during mating season.

Like many other phocoenids (porpoises) and delphinidids (dolphins), vaquitas use sonar as a means of communicating with other vaquitas and navigating throughout its habitat.

World Range & Habitat

Vaquitas, Phocoena sinus, are currently the most endangered cetacean in the world and are found only in the northern area of the Gulf of California in coastal, shallow waters. Vaquitas are the only porpoise species found in such warm waters. Most phocoenids inhabit waters cooler than 20°C. Vaquitas are able to tolerate the fluctuations in temperature in the Gulf of California that range from 14°C in January to 36°C in August.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Vaquitas, Phocoena sinus, feed on teleost (bony) fishes and squid found near the surface of the ocean.

Life History

The vaquita, Phocoena sinus, reaches sexual maturity between 3-6 years. Females do not ovulate annually, therefore they do not give birth each year. They reproduce seasonally from mid-April to May, with a gestation period of about 10.6 months. Males mate with as many females as possible. Similar to other mammals with multi-male breeding systems, male vaquitas have large testes relative to their body size. Females give birth to 1 calf per pregnancy that averages in size from 0.6-0.7 m in length. Calves are nursed for <1 year. Juvenile vaquitas can be identified by the white spots on their dorsal fins.

Conservation Status & Comments

The vaquita, Phocoena sinus, is listed as Critically Endangered, and only possibly several hundred remain. They often suffer from entanglement in fishing gear, particularly shrimp nets and gillnets set for sharks. An estimated 25-30 vaquitas drown each year as a result. Juveniles are particularly at-risk, which further threatens the sustainability of this species as the number of reproductive adults is reduced. They are also at-risk because of their similarity in size to a popular seabass like fish called totoabo. Although fishing for totoabo is illegal, it continues to be heavily exploited, which threatens both vaquitas and totoabo.

Viva Vaquita was formed in September, 2009 by concerned researchers and educators from three nonprofit organizations, Cetos Research Organization, Save The Whales, and American Cetacean Society, Monterrey Bay Chapter. Visit today to learn more and help save the few remaining vaquita.

References & Further Research

FAO Species Identification Guide - Marine Mammals of the World (PDF)
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS)

Research Phocoena sinus » Barcode of Life ~ BioOne ~ Biodiversity Heritage Library ~ CITES ~ Cornell Macaulay Library [audio / video] ~ Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) ~ ESA Online Journals ~ FishBase ~ Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department ~ GBIF ~ Google Scholar ~ ITIS ~ IUCN RedList (Threatened Status) ~ Marine Species Identification Portal ~ NCBI (PubMed, GenBank, etc.) ~ Ocean Biogeographic Information System ~ PLOS ~ SIRIS ~ Tree of Life Web Project ~ UNEP-WCMC Species Database ~ WoRMS

Search for Vaquitas » ARKive ~ ~ Bing ~ dmoz ~ Flickr ~ Google ~ NatureFootage ~ Picsearch ~ Wikipedia ~ Yahoo! Images ~ YouTube

Feedback & Citation

Start or join a discussion about this species below or send us an email to report any errors or submit suggestions for this page. We greatly appreciate all feedback!

~^~ surface

Help Protect and Restore Ocean Life

Help us protect and restore marine life by supporting our various online community-centered marine conservation projects that are effectively sharing the wonders of the ocean with millions each year around the world, raising a balanced awareness of the increasingly troubling and often very complex marine conservation issues that affect marine life and ourselves directly, providing support to marine conservation groups on the frontlines that are making real differences today, and the scientists, teachers and students involved in the marine life sciences.

Join us today or show your support with a monthly donation.

With your support, most marine life and their ocean habitats can be protected, if not restored to their former natural levels of biodiversity. We sincerely thank our thousands of members, donors and sponsors, who have decided to get involved and support the MarineBio Conservation Society.