Ocean Lovers, we hope your are enjoying your weekend.
Day 18 of our backwards countdown to World Oceans Day called Pick/Protect 21 is here (we realized we started a day early, so we took yesterday off!) and we want to introduce you to the smallest member of the cetacean family of marine mammals:
Why you should pick them:
Pint-sized Vaquitas (Phonoceona sinus) are the smallest of the six porpoise species, and live only in the northern parts of the Gulf of California, Mexico.
Vaquita is Spanish for “little cow,” and this porpoise is so rarely seen that scientists first recognized it by discovering some skulls in 1958. Vaquita was not even sighted by scientists and fully described until 1985.
Vaquitas grow to only about 4′11″ in length and average 90-110 pounds at full maturity. Their flippers are larger than those of their porpoise cousins, and their dorsal fins are taller.
Vaquitas are also quite different looking than any of the five other porpoises: their skin is dark grey on their backs, fading to light grey on the sides and white on the belly. They also have black rings around their eyes, a black stripe from chin to flipper, and a black-lipped “smile.”
They live in groups of 2 to 10, and females give birth about every two years.
Very little is factually known about the Vaquita, because it’s hard to spot and hard to track.
They hate boats, do not often do the aerial acrobatics their fellow cetaceans (especially dolphins) are well-known for, and they rise slowly to the surface to breath, almost rolling with the waves before disappearing beneath the surface again, almost invisible.
Why they need protecting:
Simple – there are only about 200 left. And that’s it.
As cute, mysterious and elusive as they are, the Vaquita can’t hide from man’s perils – mainly gillnets, put out by fisherman trying to catch the United States’ most popular seafood: shrimp.
It’s estimated that between 39 and 84 Vaquitas a year die in gillnets. The Vaquita need 50 animals a year to maintain a healthy population that can reproduce itself. The math obviously isn’t good.
How you can protect them:
Vaquitas are not hunted or purposely targeted, but they are being destroyed by a serious problem for all cetaceans and many other forms of sea life: bycatch.
More people need to be educated about the dangers of bycatch in commercial fishing, and Chris Johnson, the filmmaker behind the documentary “Vaquita: Search for the Desert Porpoise” highlights this problem both in the film and on the web. Check out his website for more on the Vaquita, what’s being done, and what you can do to get involved.