The Vaquita is a small, elusive, and critically endangered marine mammal that lives in a small area of the upper Gulf of California. Vaquita means “little cow” in Spanish, which is an appropriate name for the smallest toothed whale. Vaquitas are also the most endangered marine mammal in the world, with fewer than 20 individuals left. The population is plummeting and heading for extinction due to an illegal fishery for a desired fish called the totoaba.
The vaquita is often unintentionally caught in fishing nets set for the targeted totoaba. Conservation efforts have focused on protecting the vaquita by stopping gillnet fishing. Local fishing communities, directly impacted by the loss of their livelihood, have often opposed these efforts.
The situation is complex, but this fact is simple: the vaquita may be extinct within a few years.
For another chronological look at the vaquita story, check out this timeline.