Dall’s Porpoise

“Lips like a moose” used to tease one of my classmates of girls with big lips. Dall’s porpoise have lips like that. It has a tiny head with a great big body with a little triangular dorsal fin. Like the orca it’s body is black and white with several different morph’s.

Amazingly it is possible for Dall’s porpoises to interbreed with Harbor porpoise. There is a great deal of overlap in range with the harbor porpoise in the Pacific. But this animal isn’t found in the Atlantic.

Easily recognized by the “rooster tail” that the dorsal creates as it shoots to the top of the water, the Dall’s porpoise is colorful and a joy to watch as you paddle or sail through the islands.

 


Harbor Porpoise

Harbor porpoise are vastly reduced in numbers in the Baltic Sea due to the beleif of fishermen that they reduce vaslty the numbers of fish available. And they are right. Each porpoise consumes several pounds of fish a day. In the San Juans it is the salmon gillnetters that struggle with these animals. They blunder into the gillnet – for what reason it is not understood because they can “see” them – and tangle.
Distinguished by a small triangular dorsal fin in the middle of the back – at best – these beautiful animals reach five feet at best. Harbor porpoises are colored:

  • Gray back – lighter sides and belly,
  • Dark mouth-to-flipper stripe,
  • Indistinct beak.

Usually solitary, at the end of summer they will congregate in larger groups of up to 25 individuals. They are seldom seen because of their quick rolls on the surface with little to no splashing. They are found in the north Pacific and Atlantic along the coast. Harbor porpoises can be distinguished from the coastal dolphins by their size.

 


Marine mammals

Many first time visitors to the San Juan Island come to the see the Orca. Fascinating and spectacular they are only a small portion of the marine mammals that call Puget Sound home.

My interest began with the porpoises that rolled by the sailboat as I went from island to island. Usually they were visible in calms seas but I occasinally saw them in weather too. Talking to other boaters and fisherman I got some interesting stories including being told that they were “blackfish” and really were fish – not mammals.

That got me going. I discovered that Dall’s porpoises and harbor porpoises both exist in the area. Being told that what I was seeing was Dall’s – I carried merrily on. I realized that there were other small whales in the area. And then there were the seals.

All fascinating creatures in their own right.

 


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