Harbour Porpoise

Harbour Porpoise

Common porpoise, Harbor porpoise, Puffing pigs

Phocoena phocoena
Population size
over 1 mln
Life Span
20 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
m ft 

The Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is one of eight extant species of porpoise. It is one of the smallest species of cetacean. As its name implies, it stays close to coastal areas or river estuaries, and as such, is the most familiar porpoise to whale watchers.


The Harbour porpoise is a little smaller than the other porpoises. Its body is robust, and the animal is at its maximum girth just in front of its triangular dorsal fin. The beak is poorly demarcated. The flippers, dorsal fin, tail fin, and back are 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 body.




Harbour porpoises are widespread in cooler coastal waters of the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and the Black Sea. In the Atlantic, they may be present in a curved band of water running from the coast of West Africa to the coasts of Portugal, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and the eastern seaboard of the United States. The population in the Baltic Sea is limited in winter due to sea freezing and is most common in the southwest parts of the sea. There is another band in the Pacific Ocean running from the Sea of Japan, Vladivostok, the Bering Strait, Alaska, British Columbia, and California. They inhabit estuaries, bays, and river mouths, and sometimes go further upriver. It is suggested porpoises are relatively sedentary and usually do not leave a certain area for long. However, they have been recorded to move from onshore to offshore waters along the coast.

Harbour Porpoise habitat map

Climate zones

Harbour Porpoise habitat map
Harbour Porpoise
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Habits and Lifestyle

Harbour porpoises are generally seen as a solitary species. Most of the time, they are either alone or in groups of no more than five animals; however, larger groups can form during migration. Harbour porpoises usually swim near the water's surface, rising up to the surface about every 25 seconds to breathe, and their blow is not easy to see at sea. They do not present an especially playful attitude, taking no notice of boats and hardly ever leaping above the water. They can often be detected by their loud puffing sound as they breathe at the surface. Harbour porpoises feed close to the sea bottom, at least for waters less than 200 metres (110 fathoms) deep. However, when hunting sprat, porpoises may stay closer to the surface. They hunt alone but may sometimes hunt in packs and herd fish together. The vocalizations of Harbour porpoises are made up of short clicks from 0.5 to 5 milliseconds in bursts up to two seconds long. Each click has a frequency between 1000 and 2200 hertz. Aside from communication, the clicks are also used for echolocation.

Diet and Nutrition

Harbour porpoises are carnivores (piscivores) and eat mainly smooth, non-spiny fish, such as herring, pollack, hake, cod, and sardines. Other sea creatures including cephalopods and shrimp are also eaten.

Mating Habits

10-11 months
1 calf
17-21 months

Harbour porpoises are polygynandrous, with two or more males mating with two or more female porpoises. Mating mainly takes place from June to September, with births occurring between May and August. Females give birth to a single calf every year or every second year, following a gestation of 10-11 months. The mothers usually take their newborns to secluded coves for nursing. Lactation lasts approximately 8-12 months, though calves start to eat solid food at around 5 months of age. Young porpoises stay with their mothers after weaning for up to a further 9 months. They reach reproductive maturity at the age of 3-4 years.


Population threats

The main threats are considered to be lack of food, entanglement in fishing nets, noise and chemical pollution, hunting, and boat traffic.

Population number

According to IUCN's Red List, the global number of the Harbour porpoise is over a million individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The name “porpoise” comes from the Latin for pig (porcus). Harbour porpoises are therefore sometimes called "puffing pigs,” due to the sound they make as they breathe.
  • When surfacing for air, these porpoises do not splash; instead, they roll from their beak to their fluke and arch their back.
  • Due to the Harbour porpoise's small size, it needs to eat frequently to maintain its body heat and energy in comparison with larger cetaceans that can store large amounts of energy in their fat/blubber.
  • Porpoises are not as energetic as dolphins, and when it comes to showing off, they become more shy.
  • The Harbour porpoise is equipped with echolocation, which enables it to navigate the seas and search for food, in complete darkness sometimes.
  • The abundant Harbour porpoise is the best-known and most popular species of porpoise, and they are often found swimming in coastal waters and near the harbor.
  • They are extremely intelligent and can do various tricks and carry out specific tasks when trained.

Coloring Pages


1. Harbour Porpoise Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harbour_porpoise
2. Harbour Porpoise on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/17027/0

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