Although many people think “gray whales” when they think "Baja" due to the gray whales’ friendly natures and summer birthing schedules in shallow lagoons, many whales actually frequent the waters of Baja California. Besides the annual visitation of gray whales, Baja is also called on by blue whales, sperm whales, humpback whales, fin whales, orcas, and minke whale.
The smallest of all whales porpoises, or dolphins, the vaquita is also known as the gulf porpoise
and cochito. On average, an adult reaches only 1.3 meters, and newly born calves are only around 60 centimeters long. These creatures are not only the smallest of their kind, but they are the most endangered of all marine species. As such, these tiny creatures are enormously important.
Vaquitas have not been “known” to the world for very long as they were discovered in 1958—a briefly recognized existence that makes their precarious position on the edge of extinction even sadder. If you do not recognize them by their petite size, you search for other distinguishing factors. They have a large dark ring around their eyes as well as dark patches on their lips that form a line extending from their mouth to their pectoral fins. Their overall skin color ranges from dark to pale gray. The few that are left are found close to the shore as they enjoy shallower waters.
Partly due to their size, they are often drowned or caught in gillnets popularly used by illegal fishing operations. There are believed to be less than 100 vaquitas left, and more than half of the population has been lost in the last 3 years. Sadly, the World Wildlife Foundation estimates a possible extinction by 2018 unless the ban against gillnet fisheries is more strongly enforced. Hopefully, the quickly diminishing population of these diminutive whales begins to swell with the intense efforts of conservationists. Few whales can be described as cute or handheld, and the world should hold on to those that can.