Well after a weeks absence Impurest’s Guide to Animals returns to Comic Vine. Two weeks ago the jolly little Zebra Jumping Spider hopped into the spotlight. This week we have the ‘little cow’ from the Sea of Cortez. Hope you enjoy.
Issue #36 Vaquita
Kingdom – Animalia
Phylum – Chordata
Class – Mammalia
Order – Cetartiodactyla
Family – Phocenidae
Genus – Phocena
Species – sinus
Related Species - The Vaquita is one of the four species in the genus Phocena, the others being the Harbour Porpoise (Phocenea phocenea), Burmeister’s Porpoise (Phocenea dioptrica) and the Spectacle Porpoise (Phocenea spinipinnis) (1)
The Little Cow
The Vaquita (Spanish for Little Cow) is the smallest member of the cetacean family, with a length of only 130cm and an average weight of 30kg. The Vaquita can be easily recognised by the large black markings running down the beak and up to the eyes as well as a larger dorsal fin then the other porpoise species. The Vaquita is only found in small groups and unlike their dolphin cousins never gather in large numbers (2). Like most other cetaceans the Vaquita navigates and communicates primarily using echolocation, which in the muddy coastal region the porpoise lives in, is more reliable then their eyesight.
Vaquita are not fussy eaters, and will take a wide range of small to medium sized fish, cephalopods and other invertebrates. The porpoise has few natural predators other then man, although the species is sometimes attacked by Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncates) which will go as far to kill the porpoises for as of yet unknown reasons (3). Despite these attacks the main threat to the Vaquita isn’t a dolphin or a shark but rather Man’s expansion into the sea.
Illegal Gill Nets used in the Sea of Cortez create a deadly maze of weave and robe, that’s virtually invisible to dolphin and porpoise echolocation. It’s estimated that just under a hundred animals remain in the wild population, and that through interbreeding the species is at risk of genetic homogenisation. At current the Mexican government is desperately trying to ban gill nets in Vaquita territory, and due to the small number of animals remaining, it is likely that the Vaquita will become extinct within the decade.
Five to Save #3 - Marine Mammals
Marine Mammals have long been the poster animals for the blight of endangered species everywhere. While the traditional threats may now be gone throughout most of their range, these noble creatures now run a new gauntlet as deadly and as terrifying as any harpoon fired from a whaling vessel. The good news for the majority of species is that numbers are either increasing or are stable, although recently a few species, seem to be heading back towards extinction.
Fin Whale (Balaneoptera physalus) Endangered
Threats: Historic Whaling - The Fin Whale, being one of the largest and fastest of all the baleen whales was among the last to be hunted commercially. It was estimated that between 1935 and 1965 around 30,000 individuals were killed a year. While hunting is now mostly banned the species, unlike other baleen whales, doesn’t seem to be recovering, possibly due to slow reproduction rate, although it’s feared the population will never truly recover.
Hector’s Dolphin (Chephaloryncus hectori) Endangered
Threats: Bycatch - Many of the smaller dolphin and porpoise species regularly suffer from accidental catching by gill nets. In addition the species preference to shallow water habitat makes it very vulnerable to industrial pollution and collision with boats, despite the New Zealand Government’s strict law about harming the species and comprehensive marine reserves set up for the species.
Marine Otter (Lontra felina) Endangered
Threats: Mining - While industrial pollution is a big problem for most coastal animals, the Marine Otter lives on the shores of one of the biggest mining zones in the world. Found only off the coast of Argentina, Chile and Peru, the species suffers from pesticides, toxins and silt running down into the ocean. In addition, despite strict government penalties the species is still hunted for its fur.
Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) Critically Endangered
Threats: Competition for Resources - While pesticides and water pollution have caused a decline in the population it’s the development of tourist attractions and beaches around the Mediterranean that have caused the Monk Seal problems. While the species historically gave birth and rested on remote island beaches, competition with tourists, real estate agents and big business has pushed the species to live in marine caves, a potentially risky gambit considering the geological instability of the entire region.
Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris) Endangered
Threats : Broken Ecological Dynamic - While fur hunting was the route cause of Sea Otter endangerment, their numbers have increased after a ban on hunting in the 1900s. Most recently accidental pollution such as the destruction of the Exon Valdez Tanker is the most prevalent danger. Because of the oil spill the ecological balance shifted with large numbers of seals and sea lions leaving the area or simply dying. Because of this the local Orca (Orcinus orca) has shifted their diet from seals to otters, and have caused a decline of 90% in local populations in certain areas.
1 - www.arkive.org
2 - Barlow, J. (2014). "Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)".EDGE of Existence programme. Zoological Society of London.
3 - Evidence Puts Dolphins in New Light, as Killers". Luna.pos.to. July 6, 1999.
1 - http://www.cms.int/reports/small_cetaceans/data/P_sinus/P%20sinus_wurtz.jpg
2 - http://worldsaquarium.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/vaquita_map.jpg
3 - http://cdn2.arkive.org/media/B9/B9BAFA06-7026-4304-A672-2F8C35E07304/Presentation.Large/Vaquita-calf-at-the-surface.jpg
4 - http://cdn2.arkive.org/media/D2/D2373991-E7E2-4C88-9F37-9DBCB31FDA4F/Presentation.Large/Four-dead-vaquitas-on-beach.jpg
And with that we bid adios, maybe forever, to the Vaquita and its endangered marine mammal associates. Next week we have a disgusting worm issue. Enough said I think. Until then comment, critic and request odd and amazing creatures or just check out past issues in the Bestiary of Past Issues.