April 7th 2010 The trip had glass like sea states coming out of the Netherlands with the horizon blurring between the sea and sky. Fishing boats looked like they were flying and the offshore wind turbines were ghostly still. A passenger quickly spotted the first harbour porpoise 100ms away from the bow of the ferry and it left a rippled foot print on the waters surface for us all to see. Further out of Ijmuiden we had six more harbour porpoises 50m meters’ away including an adult and juvenile side by side. Then they were in every direction of our 180 degrees viewing area. The sightings continued for an hour.
These tiny animals in the dolphin family measuring about 1.5 ms only make a tiny splash as they break the waters surface. They are mainly spotted moving away from the ship as unlike other cetaceans, (the scientific order of dolphin, whales and porpoise), harbour porpoises rarely bow ride. In fact little of them are ever seen. They are usually in small family groups of up to 12 individuals but join up into big social pods in the summer and I have seen them breach and spy hop around this time. Porpoises communicate using higher frequencies than we can hear, higher than any other cetaceans and this is one way they are studied using hydrophones. Currently their population numbers are assessed as “of conservation concern”. They have been a frequent victim to fisheries, pollution and coastal developments. Long-term data on the distribution of these animals is collected by scientific organizations like ORCA to look into protecting their habitats.
Later that evening my excited passengers and “top porpoise spotters” came into the ORCA Wildlife Centre and put sightings stickers on our route map. The map is pretty busy now and we have only had 3 trips so far! Inspired but what they had seen the younger spotters spent the evening playing marine games and creating some fantastic art work. Ryan currently in year 8 and living near Teesside transformed the ORCA Centre with a truly artistic expression of our ocean life! A big thank you goes to Ryan, Jacob, Chris, and Liam and for all your creativity and enthusiasm.
Senior Wildlife Education Officer ORCA Organisation Cetacea