Vaquita Fact Sheet

Common Name:

Vaquita, Little Cow

Scientific Name:

Phocoena sinus

Wild Status:

Critically Endangered




USA, Mexico


open water, protection in pods

Life Span:

20 years


up to 5.0ft and 95lbs

Cool Facts:

  • The word "vaquita" is Spanish for "little cow." They are also known as the chochito and the gulf porpoise.
  • They prefer the murky, nutrient-rich waters close to shore that attract the small fish, squid, and crustaceans they feed upon.
  • Porpoises are very similar to dolphins and many people confuse the two. Dolphins tend to be larger with leaner bodies than porpoises. Their dorsal fins are hooked rather than triangular, and they have beaklike rostrum full cone-shaped teeth. Porpoises lack a rostrum and have teeth shaped like spades.
  • They are endemic to the Gulf of California.


The vaquita is not only the world's smallest porpoise, but the world's smallest cetacean. Mature females can be longer than males, reaching up to 4.9 feet in length. Mature males will typically reach maximum length of 4.6 feet. Vaquitas are are dark gray on their dorsal side and white to light gray on their ventral side. Their fins tend to be darker in color, sometimes a near black. Their bodies are unlike any other cetaceans in their region. Their dorsal fin is tall and triangular, their head is rounded, and they do not have a long beak distinguished beak as seen in dolphins. They have a dark ring around their eyes and mouth.

Taxonomic Breakdown:

Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Artiodactyla Infraorder: Cetacea Family: Phocoenidae Genus: Phocoena Species: P. sinus

Conservation & Helping:

Vaquitas are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. They are considered the most endangered marine mammal in the world and are protected under multiple regulations, including the US Endangered Species Act, Appendix II of CITES, and the Mexican Official Standard NOM-059. As an endemic species in the Gulf of Mexico, they have a naturally small range and population. The biggest threats to vaquita are gillnets, and being bycatch in the illegal totoaba fishing. Due to the many dangers of gillnets that many large species face, they are now deemed illegal as they once were used and modifications have been made to legal gillnet fishing. In some instance, catching and releasing vaquitas has been considered and done, but this is not a viable solution for the future of the vaquita. This option requires resources and has caused death by shock.

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