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Harbour Porpoise in Cornwall

Often seen playing just down the Cornish Coast around the Manacles Reef.


Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in Cornwall

We see a variety of Cetacean species on our Sea Safaris.

The Harbour Porpoises are often seen around the Manacles Reef; we search for Common Dolphins in offshore areas and Bottlenose Dolphins in inshore areas; and look out for Risso's Dolphins but they are slightly rarer around the coast. Minke whales are also a treat to see but rare visitors to Falmouth.

This is one of the smallest mammals living in the sea. We have a resident pod on the south coast of Cornwall of between 8 and 10 individuals (they're a bit difficult to count!) They are quite hard to spot due to the small size of their dorsal fin so we tend to see them on relatively calm days. They are generally shy and don't interact with the boat as much as the dolphins might do.

How to identify a Harbour Porpoise:

  • Only 1.3- 1.8 metres in length
  • Grey/ dark brown coloured above, paler belly
  • Often makes a 'puffing' noise when at the surface breathing through its blowhole 

Feeding and Distribution:
Harbour Porpoises feed on herring, cod, sardines and pollack. As their name suggests, they are found close to the coastline and sometimes even venture up large rivers. They inhabit the North Pacific and the North Atlantic oceans.

Threats and Conservation:

  • Due to its inshore distribution, the Harbour Porpoise was easy prey in the past so has been hunted. Now their biggest threat to survival is being accidentally caught in fishing activities, like so many other cetacean species.
  • Over fishing and climate change also pose a threat as they both deplete the porpoises' food source.
  • Living close to shore they are at risk of collecting polluntants such as PCBs and pesticides, in their fat reserves. When they need to draw on their fat reserves, such as during periods of food shortage, any pollutants stored can have potentially toxic effects.
  • Research in Scotland has found that Bottlenose dolphins will attack and kill Harbour porpoises if there is strong competition for food. This can only be set to increase with constantly depleting fish stocks.