The vaquita lives in a distinct and exceptional environment nestled within the northern Gulf of California, which is also known as the Sea of Cortez. This narrow body of water stretches between the Baja California Peninsula and the Mexican mainland. The upper region of the Gulf is the sole domain of these elusive porpoises, making their habitat truly unique.
Several factors set the vaquita’s habitat apart from other marine environments:
- Shallow waters: The vaquita prefers shallow waters, typically around 50 meters in depth. The upper Gulf of California provides extensive shallow areas, allowing the vaquita to thrive as it hunts for its preferred prey—small fish and squid.
- Rich biodiversity: The Gulf of California is a treasure trove of biodiversity, supporting a wide variety of marine life. It is home to numerous fish, marine mammal, and bird species, as well as several unique marine ecosystems, including mangroves and coral reefs. This abundance of life creates a vibrant and dynamic environment for the vaquita and other inhabitants.
- Varied seafloor topography: The seafloor in the vaquita’s habitat exhibits a complex topography, with submerged canyons and valleys that influence local currents and nutrient distribution. This diverse underwater landscape contributes to the productivity and richness of the area, supporting an array of marine organisms.
- Nutrient-rich waters: The Gulf of California receives fresh water and nutrients from the Colorado River and other smaller rivers, resulting in nutrient-rich waters that promote the growth of phytoplankton and sustain the marine food web. The availability of such a rich food source is vital for supporting the diverse array of species found in the region, including the vaquita.