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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 5:21 EDT

Harbor Porpoise

The Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is one of 6 species of porpoise, and so one of about eighty cetacean species. The Harbor Porpoise, as its name implies, stays close to coastal areas or river estuaries and as such is the most familiar porpoise to whale watchers. This porpoise often ventures up rivers and has been seen hundreds of miles from the sea.

Physical description

The Harbor Porpoise is a little smaller than the other porpoises. It is about 2.5 ft (75 cm) long at birth. Males grow up to 4.7 ft (1.6 m) and females to 5.2 ft (1.7 m). The females are correspondingly heavier, with a maximum weight of around 167 pounds (76 kg) compared with the males’ 134 pounds (61 kg). The flippers, dorsal fin, tail fin and back are a dark grey. The sides are a slightly speckled lighter grey. The underside is much whiter, though there are usually grey stripes running along the throat from the underside of the mouth to the flippers.

Harbor Porpoises live up to 25 years.

Population and distribution

The species is widespread in cooler coastal waters in the Northern Hemisphere, largely in areas with a mean temperature of about 59°F (15°C). In the Atlantic, Harbor Porpoises may be present in a concave band of water running from the coast of western Africa round to the eastern seaboard of the United States, including the coasts of Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland. There is a similarly shaped band in the Pacific Ocean running from Sea of Japan, Vladivostok, the Bering Strait, and Alaska and down to Seattle and Vancouver. There are diminishing populations in the Black and Baltic Seas.

Conservation

Harbor Porpoises are not and never have been actively hunted by whalers because they are too small to be of interest””an adult is about the same size and a little lighter than the average adult human. The global population is in the hundreds of thousands and the Harbor Porpoise is not under threat of widespread extinction. However a key concern is the large number of porpoises caught each year in gill nets and other fishery equipment. Scientists have developed beacons to attach to the nets to try to deter curious porpoises. These are not yet widespread and there is some controversy regarding their use””some concerns have been raised about the value of adding more noise pollution to the seas.

Harbor Porpoise