Meet a special species of porpoise known as the vaquita.
Photo: Paula Olson-NOAA/Public Domain.
Have you heard of porpoises? Porpoises are marine mammals that resemble dolphins. Porpoises can be differentiated from dolphins by their shorter beaks, the shape of their teeth and stockier bodies. Meet a special species of porpoise known as the vaquita. It is the smallest of all porpoises, growing up to just 140 cm. in length. It is found only in the waters off the Gulf of California and Mexico.
The vaquita is the rarest of marine mammals, and could soon go extinct – less than 100 of them survive today. And if we don’t make more efforts to protect them from getting entangled in fishing nets that are used extensively in the waters in which these animals are found, we could lose them forever.
Vaquitas are easily identifiable by the prominent black rings around their eyes and mouths. They are grey in colour, with a darker back and sides that are a paler grey. The fin is triangular and arches backwards. They are very shy and come up to the surface to breathe for very short periods of time before quickly slipping back into the depths of the ocean. Since it is very difficult to spot a vaquita, we know very little about these magnificent animals.
Vaquitas have a reasonably long life span of about 20 years. They track their prey using echolocation, a process by which they emit sound waves which when reflected back helps them detect an object and even communicate with other animals. They are also known to follow the sounds of their prey to track and hunt them. They feed on fish dwelling close to the ocean floor, squids and other crustaceans*.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, VOL. XXXVI, NO. 9, September 2016.