|18 (2022 est.)
The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is a species of porpoise found only at the northern end of of the Gulf of California in Mexico, and considered the smallest completely marine mammal. Overly-intensive, and often illegal fishing has reduced its population severely.
Vaquitas have a length of 4.9 feet, and weigh up to 160 pounds, with females slightly larger than males. Of marine mammals, only the sea otter, which is capable of clambering out of the water, is smaller. It is gray in color overall, with the back being darker than the belly. The eyes and mouth are dark-rimmed. A gray stripe runs from the chin and widens towards the flippers. The flippers are small and wide. Compared to other porpoises, the triangular fin is quite large in relation to the body. The sickle-shaped fluke is notched and tapers to a point at the ends.
Vaquitas are found in the northern part of the Gulf of California south of the mouth of the Colorado River. They prefer warmer waters than other porpoises, with the Gulf at that location reaching up to 96 degrees farenheit in summer. Vaquitas live either solitary or in pairs and feed on cephalopods and fish.
There is little information about their reproduction. The animals are believed to reach sexual maturity at around six years of age. The mating season is in late spring; after a gestation period of ten to eleven months, the females give birth to a single young. In contrast to other porpoises, females do not mate again until the following year.
In 1997 the population was estimated at less than 600, with a steady decline which left 30 individuals in 2016. The reason for the reduction in the population is neither genetic impoverishment nor a loss of habitat or environmental pollution, but rather the consequences of fishing: every year up to 80 California porpoises die as so-called bycatch in fishing nets, with blame centered on illegal fishing for the totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi), which itself has become rare due to demand in the Chinese market. Following the presumed extinction of the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) in China reported in 2006, the vaquita is now considered the small whale most at risk of extinction. The IUCN lists it as critically endangered.
As of 2023 the current population was listed as 10 individuals, prompting authorities to announce an extinction alert.