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The world’s smallest and rarest porpoise, the vaquita, is now the most critically endangered marine mammal on the planet. Weighing up to 120 pounds (55 kg), the vaquita is only found in the shallow murky waters of the northern Gulf of California. This grey-colored porpoise grows to approximately 5 feet (1.5 meters) in length, with distinguishing  dark grey coloration around its eyes, lips, and on its fins. Vaquitas reach sexual maturity at 3 to 6 years of age and can live for more than 21 years. The vaquita’s diet consists of crustaceans, squid, octopi, and small fish, all of which may be affected by climate change. Overall, the greatest threat to vaquitas in the wild currently is accidental entanglement in gillnets meant for shark, ray, and skate fishing. As of July, 2017, the Mexican Federal Government enforced a permanent ban on gillnet fishing within the vaquita habitat. Despite the enforcement from the Mexican Government and Navy, illegal gillnet fishing continues in some regions.

Over the past 2 decades the vaquita population (Figure 1) has declined from 600 to an estimated 30 individuals, inciting efforts to save and restore the vaquita. A marine refuge has been created in the central portion of the vaquita range, and the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita is attempting to move as many individuals as possible to marine sanctuaries. The Consortium for Vaquita Conservation, Protection, and Recovery sent a team of 65 scientists to monitor, identify, and capture vaquitas in the Gulf, but due to the vaquitas negative reaction to human care, the team had to cease the capture portion of the operation. This mission resulted in 32 sightings of vaquitas and the death of a mature female.

Vaquita population decline since 1997.
Vaquita population decline since 1997. Figure from

This has been On the Ocean, a program made possible by the Department of Oceanography and a production of KAMU-FM on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. For more information and links, please go to and click On the Ocean.

Check out these links to learn more about the vaquita!

Vaquita CPR

IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group: Vaquita

Script Authors: Rachel Housley and Victoria Scriven

Contributing Professor: Dr. Lisa Campbell

Editor: James M. Fiorendino