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The Plight of the Vaquita

Posted August 15, 2013 in A Vet's Life

For more from Dr. Ruth MacPete, find her on Facebook or at www.drruthpetvet.com!

Vaquita photos taken by Thomas A. Jefferson under permit (Oficio No. DR/488/08) from the Secretaria de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT), within a natural protected area subject to special management and decreed as such by the Mexican Government.

I must admit, even as a veterinarian who did a marine mammal rotation in Florida during veterinary school, I had never heard of the vaquita. I first learned about vaquitas from my 6-year-old daughter who studied them in her kindergarten class. When her class learned that they were critically endangered, they took action. They held a hot chocolate sale at their school and did chores at home to raise money to help them. Inspired by these amazing 6-year-olds, I wanted to see what I could do to raise awareness and support for these incredible animals.

What is a Vaquita?
The Vaquita (Phocoena, sinus), which means "little cow" in Spanish, is also known as the Gulf of California porpoise, gulf porpoise, and locally as cochito. It is an elusive porpoise first discovered in 1958 that lives only in the northern portion of the Gulf of California near the estuary of the Colorado River in the Sea of Cortez. They belong to the order Cetacea and are members of the Phocoenidae family. They are the smallest cetacean and have the smallest habitat consisting of approximately 40 square miles.

What do they look like?
Vaquitas are between 4-5 feet in length and weigh between 65-120 lbs. They are gray and have rounded heads with very little or no beak. They have black on their lips, chin and around their eyes. They are usually found alone but can be seen in pairs or in small groups of 6-8. Vaquitas are very elusive and avoid boats. They spend most of their time under water foraging and onlysurface briefly for air. 

Diet
Vaquitas tend to forage in shallow waters near lagoons. They eat small fish, crustaceans, octopus and squid. It is believed that they locate their prey using echolocation.

Lifespan
Vaquitas typically live 20 years. They reach sexual maturity between 3-6 years and give birth every other year to a single calf after 10-11 month gestation, typically in March.

Endangered
The vaquita population is on the verge of extinction and is listed as critically endangered. They are the

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.