Vaquitas, known scientifically as Phocoena sinus, are neither dolphins nor what you commonly call whales, but they do belong to the same group of marine mammals, known as cetaceans. Vaquitas are actually a species of porpoise, which is a distinct subgroup within the cetacean family.
Cetaceans are a diverse group of aquatic mammals that include whales, dolphins, and porpoises. They are divided into two main subgroups: baleen whales (Mysticeti) and toothed whales (Odontoceti). Although the terms “dolphin” and “porpoise” are often used interchangeably, they refer to different types of toothed whales.
Dolphins and porpoises are similar in many ways, but they have distinct characteristics that set them apart. Dolphins, which belong to the family Delphinidae, generally have a more streamlined and elongated body, a dorsal fin that is curved or hooked, and a beak-like snout called a rostrum. They are also known for their acrobatic behavior and high levels of intelligence.
Porpoises, on the other hand, are part of the family Phocoenidae. They tend to have a more compact and robust body, a triangular dorsal fin, and a shorter, more rounded snout. Porpoises are generally more elusive and less acrobatic than dolphins, and they are often found in colder waters.
The vaquita, specifically, is a small and critically endangered porpoise species that can only be found in the northern part of the Gulf of California, which is also known as the Sea of Cortez. This species is characterized by its small size, reaching up to 5 feet in length, and its dark, circular markings around the eyes and mouth, which give it a distinct appearance.