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The "little cow" of the Mexican Gulf

The story of the world's rarest marine mammal.

Tanay Daphtary

In the shallow-waters of the Mexican Gulf of California roams the world's rarest marine mammal. With only 10 vaquitas left, this species is ebbing towards extinction. The vaquita, also known as phocoena sinus or little cow, is the smallest of all living cetaceans in the world.

The most distinctive feature of this extraordinary porpoise is the dark-coloured patches on its eyes and lips. Along with its small, spade-like teeth that are easily recognisable to its prey; squids, crabs and small bottom-dwelling fish. Its dorsal surface, a dark-grey, is that of a contrast to the pale grey underside of the vaquita. It resembles a dolphin.

These non-selective feeders are notoriously shy, swimming away from every boat near them. This does not mean that they do not occasionally get entangled in fish-nets. Vaquitas are known to be a by-catch made by fishermen intending to catch other fish such as the totoaba. The totoaba is another critically endangered fish sold illegally in China for its swim bladder. Nearly one in five vaquitas got entangled and drowned in gillnets in the late 1900’s.

Now, due to the dreadful decline in numbers, gillnets are banned in the Gulf of California, the only region where vaquitas live. More suitable methods of fishing are used for the protection of several endangered species that roam the gulf. Many conservationists also urge that the illegal trade between the US and China for totoaba products is dealt with so that the vaquita, along with several other critically endangered species, survive.

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