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Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocena

Many species of porpoises travel in large lively groups but the harbour porpoise does fit this description. The harbour porpoise is a secretive retiring species that travels alone or in small groups, shies away from boat traffic, and does not make spectacular leaps. Nevertheless, the harbour porpoise is widespread and often encountered in the northern temperate waters of the world. This reserved porpoise frequents the shallow waters of the Pacific as far north as Arctic Alaska. In the western Pacific Ocean, it ranges from the Aleutian Islands at least as far south as Japan, and in the eastern Pacific it occurs from the Pribilof Islands to southern California. The eastern Pacific subspecies P. p. vomerina occasionally reaches the mouth of the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories of Canada (Rice 1998) and there are infrequent sightings of the western Pacific subspecies near Taiwan ( ). Sightings of marked individuals suggest inshore and offshore populations that are possibly genetically distinct (Yurick and Gaskin 1987). There is also some genetic evidence to suggest little mixing of populations, and hence little migration along the Pacific coast of North America (Rosel et al. 1995). The harbour porpoise is a representative of one of the oldest marine mammals, the true porpoises or Phocoenidae that arose in the late Miocene epoch 5 to 23 million years ago.



Baird, R.W., and T.J. Guenther. 1995. Account of harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) strandings and bycatches along the coast of British Columbia. Reports of the International Whaling Commission Special Issue 16:159-168


Baird, R. W. 2003. COSEWIC Assessment and update status report on the harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena. Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa.


Calambokidis, J., J.L. Laake, and S.D. Osmek. 1997. Aerial surveys for marine mammals in Washington and British Columbia inside waters. Final report to the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Seattle, WA 98115.


Gaskin, D. E., M. Holdrinet and R. Frank. 1971. Organochlorine pesticide residues in harbour porpoises from the Bay of Fundy region. Nature 233: 499-500.


Hall, A.M. 2004. Seasonal abundance, distribution and prey species of harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in southern Vancouver Island waters. MSc thesis. Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.


Reynolds, JE and SE Rommel. 1999. Biology of marine mammals. Smithsonian.


Rice DW 1998. Marine mammals of the world: systematics and distribution. Society for Marine Mammalogy, Special Publication Number 4 (Wartzok D, Ed.), Lawrence, KS. USA.


Rosel, P. E., A. E. Dizon, and M. G. Haygood. 1995. Variability of the mitochondrial control region in populations of the harbour porpoise, Phocoena phocoena, on inter-oceanic and regional scales. Can J. Fish. Aquat Sci. 52:1210-



Wilson, D. E. and S. Ruff. 1999. The Smithsonian book of North American mammals. UBC press, Vancouver.


Yurick, D. B. and D. E. Gaskin. 1987. Morphometric and meristic compariions of  skulls of th harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena L. from the North Atlantic and North Pacific. Ophelia 27: 53-75.


Otani, S. Y. Naito, A. Kawamura, M. Kawasaki, S. Nishiwaki, and A. Kato. 1998. Diving behavior and performance of harbor porpoises, Phocoena phocoena, in Funka Bay, Hokkaido, Japan. Marine Mammal Science 14: 209–220


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