Archive for October 12th, 2008

October 12, 2008

Vaquita: An Endangered Little "Sea Cow"

Source: CSI / Alejandro Robles 

EarthOcean is at it again.  In addition to their frontline coverage of marine conservation – particularly their focus on enigmatic species – they have recently launched a new website: WhaleTrackers.  WhaleTrackers continues their use of posting online video documentaries that highlight various expeditions around the world searching for cetaceans.

The current expedition is drifting off of San Felipe, Mexico searching for the vaquita, the smallest species of true porpoise.  Vaquita (or “little cow”) are considered the most endangered species of marine mammal in the world.  The world population is estimated at 100 – 200 individuals with regular drownings of the tiny mammals as bycatch in nets for fisheries off the Mexican coastline. 

Source: WhaleTrackers / Alejandro Robles

Unfortunately not much is known about the biology of the vaquita.  The species was described from skull material in 1958 and scientific sightings and specimens were not obtained for a full description until 1985!  Its hard to believe that a new marine mammal was described when I was three years of age!  They are similar in size to the Commerson’s dolphin, achieving an average weight of 90 – 110 pounds and a full length of nearly five feet for mature females. 

Their known distribution is a frighteningly tiny area within the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California) in a biologically rich but restricted zone that is currently set aside as a refuge tied into the larger Biosphere reserve.  While the population was thought to be in the thousands just twenty years ago we are now faced with the very real potential for their extinction inside of two to five years without intervention.  (Read more at

What can we do?  Public support for the vaquita as well as awareness are expected to become the key for long term success for this species.  The Sea of Cortez is affected by the loss of freshwater influx via the Colorado River, which is now being heavily diverted for water resources in the arid American southwest. 

While we cannot perhaps drink less water there is a more pressing need for action from the American public: Eat Ocean-Friendly Seafood!!  Our power to change the world in a global economy and a global food market is strongly tied to our wallets.  Make the commitment to eat only sustainable seafood choices and prevent animals like the vaquita, seals, sea lions, sharks, stingrays, and other whale and dolphin species from ending up as bycatch in irresponsible fisheries.