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Endangered Vaquita Porpoises Receive $16-million Aid
August 20, 2008


Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico – Federal Environmental Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira announced Mexico’s plans to invest $16-million in an attempt to save the last remaining highly-endangered Vaquita porpoises found in the upper Gulf of California. The Vaquita is considered the most critically endangered cetacean on the planet. The money will be used to pay fisherman to avoid the areas where the vaquitas congregate, give up their drag nets that each year drown dozens of animals or give up fishing entirely.

Although the terms porpoise and dolphin are often used interchangeably, porpoises (Family: Phocoenidae) differ from dolphins (Family: Delphinidae) in a number of ways. Porpoises are smaller, rarely exceeding two meters (6.6 feet) in length; porpoises tend to be more robust than dolphins; the dorsal fins of porpoises are usually smaller and more triangular; and porpoises usually lack the "beak" of the dolphin.

The vaquita is a porpoise and is known by several local names including the cochito, vaquita marina - Spanish for “little sea cow” and the Gulf of California harbor porpoise. Very little is known about this species which was first described by scientists in 1958. Since that time, vaquitas have only been seen alive by a handful of scientists and what is known is based on data from only 50 individuals, hence photos are very rare.

Like other porpoises, vaquitas are stocky with a blunt head and no beak and grayish on the back, fading to white on the belly. They have dark eye rings, lip patches and flipper stripes, a tall dorsal fin and large, pointed flippers. Calves tend to be darker than adults. The maximum length of an adult is close to 1.49 meters (4.9 feet); females are thought to be larger than males.

Most porpoise species are shy and are not as playful as dolphins. Vaquitas are no exception and because they only inhabit coastal waters in the northern quarter of the Gulf of California, Mexico, they have the smallest range of any marine cetacean. Females are thought to produce one calf annually in late March or early April. Adults feed primarily on teleost (bony) fishes and may consume squid as well. A survey from 1997 produced an estimate of 567 animals. Today scientists estimate the total population to be 150 or fewer.

Illustration courtesy of

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