Aquafacts / Harbour Porpoises

Harbour Porpoises 

Your questions about harbour porpoises answered at last by our biologists and other reputable sources.

Quick facts

13 years

Average lifespan

3 to 5

Average group size

Hybrid porpoises

Harbour porpoises can breed with Dall's

Herring 

A popular porpoise food

7

Total known number of porpoise species

What is a porpoise?

A porpoise is a member of the order Cetacea meaning that it is related to whales and dolphins, Porpoises fall into their own catagory under cetaceans due to the differences that set them apart from the dolphins and whales. Porpoises tend to be smaller in size than most dolphins, have a triangular shaped dorsal fin (a dolphins dorsal fin is more crescent shaped), a blunt and rounded snout and flat "spade" shaped teeth (contrasted with a dolphins cone-shaped teeth). There are 7 known species of porpoise in the world including: harbour porpoise, Dall's porpoise, vaquita, spectacled porpoise, Burmeister's porpoise, narrow-ridged finless porpoise and the Indo-Pacific finless porpoise.

What does a harbour porpoise look like?

Harbour porpoise tend to have a dark grey back which fades into a light coloured belly down their sides. Their dorsal fin is small and triangular, which can be used in identification in the ocean, but can also be tricky as these animals don't spend much time with their backs out of the water. There is a distinct dark line that runs from the corner of their mouth to the top of their pectoral (side) flipper.

Where can they be found?

Harbour porpoises can be found distributed through northern Europe, the sub-Arctic and in the northern cooler parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There is also a group that lives in the Black Sea.

Harbour porpoises can be found in cool-temperate to sub-Arctic coastal waters of the North Pacific which includes the Bering Sea, and into the North Atlantic and Baltic Seas. They have also been located in the Black sea north of Turkey, the Chukchi sea and the Beaufort sea.

What does a harbour porpoise eat?

Harbour porpoise eat a wide variety of fish including herring, anchovy, mackerel, capelin and squid.

Do harbour porpoise face threats in B.C.?

In Canada, harbour porpoises are listed as a species of special concern. They seem to be sensitive to human activities like fishing (they can become bycatch in nets), marine noise pollution (by shipping traffic). Porpoise are also affected by contaminants that make their way into the ocean and can contaminate their food sources.

References

  1. http://wildwhales.org/harbour-porpoise/
  2. [Marine Mammals of British Columbia by John Ford]
  3. http://www.arkive.org/harbour-porpoise/phocoena-phocoena/
  4. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/17027/0
  5. https://www.marinemammalscience.org/species-information/list-of-marine-mammal-species-subspecies/


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