Inhabiting only the northern Gulf of California in Mexican waters, the vaquita is probably the most mysterious and elusive of all dolphins and porpoises. Although the species was discovered in 1958, few scientists have ever seen a vaquita - dead or alive. Researchers studying vaquitas even have trouble finding them.

One scientist searched for 15 days and had just three sightings. In the early 1980s, two scientific expeditions - each ranging over almost 2,000 km - resulted in three "probable sightings." Finally, fearing that the vaquita was virtually extinct, researcher Greg Silber spent four seasons between 1986 and 1989 combing the northern gulf. In boat and aerial surveys covering 4,216 km, he logged 110 sightings. This is a small number considering the effort. Yet it does suggest that a few hundred individuals remain.

We know little about the vaquita's life history and habits. It is thought to live in small groups of 2 to 4, perhaps 10 at most. The stomach contents of one revealed a diet of fish that are abundant in the upper gulf. Each year, some 30 to 40 are killed in fishing nets and shrimp trawls - not a huge number but a perilous one for an endangered species. Only if we can save this elusive animal is there any chance we can learn more about it.

Phocoena sinus
Size: 1.2 to 1.5 m, 30 to 55 kg. Females slightly larger than males
Calves at birth: Unknown
Teeth: 20 to 21 small, spade-shaped teeth on each side of upper jaw and 18 teeth on each side of lower jaw
Food: Fish (grunts, gulf croakers) and squid
Habitat: Coastal
Range: Far northern Gulf of California, Mexico
Status: Endangered. Population unknown but very small, perhaps low hundreds

Lost? Click here for the main index page.