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Harbor Porpoises (Photo: National Geographic Wallpapers)
At the beginning of the 20th century, harbour porpoises were common in the Baltic Sea. However, due to by-catch, severe winters, hunting, habitat degradation and pollution, the population has decreased dramatically, and today Baltic Harbour Porpoises are classified as endangered. Currently the total Baltic population is estimated as few as 600 porpoises that appear quite regularly off the coast of Denmark and Germany but are rare in other regions.
The Harbour Porpoise is a protected species worldwide. The genetically isolated Baltic population features as vulnerable on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is listed in Annexes II and IV of the EU Habitats Directive as a species requiring strict conservation. The Harbour Porpoise is also protected by the Bern Convention and a special international agreement - the Agreement on the Conservation of the Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS). All sightings of this animal should be reported to the nearest environmental administration.
The Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)
The harbour porpoise is the only whale species breeding in the Baltic Sea. The name derives from French pourpois, originally from Medieval Latin porcopiscus ("porcus" - pig + "piscus" - fish).
Harbour porpoise is one of the smallest toothed whales having a stocky body and a rounded snout with no prominent beak. The females usually grow bigger than the males with a mean body length of 160 cm and the weight of 60 kg, compared to the males 145 cm and 45-50 kg, and they are believed to have a lifespan of approximately 20 years.
Female harbour porpoises give birth to one calf every one to two years. The calf is born in spring (after 10-11 months gestation period) and nursed for 7-8 months.
Harbour porpoises inhabit shallow coastal waters as well as bays and estuaries; they may even enter rivers and canals. In the water the harbour porpoise looks dark grey. When surfacing it has a rolling movement and only the small triangular dorsal fin and a little of the body can be seen.
One of the harbour porpoise’s names, the puffing pig, is derived from the noise of its blow when it comes to the surface for air. The noise made sounds like a human sneezing or puffing.
They usually do not aggregate in larger groups, but are most often seen as single animals or smaller groups of 2-6 animals. Opposite to dolphins they are shy animals keeping away from boats and ships and only occasionally leaping out of the water. Sometimes they can be seen laying at the surface for a while between the dives.
The porpoise is not a very fast swimmer, but may reach a speed of up to 23 km/h. When it is hunting, it dives for approximately four minutes (up to 6 minutes) and may reach a depth of more than 60 m. Porpoises are navigating and locating their prey by sonar (echolocation). They feed on a wide variety of pelagic and demersal fish as well as on marine invertebrates. Main prey items appear to be schooling fish species, such as herring, mackerel and sand eel.