Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) are the smallest of 22 cetaceans recorded in the Salish Sea and are probably one of the few that are resident year-‐round. Excluding the Arctic, their distribution extends throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Their numbers in the waters of Puget Sound declined steeply in the 1970s, but their population has increased in recent years.
Source: Zier, J.C. and Gaydos, J.K. (2015). Harbor Porpoise in the Salish Sea A Species Profile for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. 32 pgs.
Harbor porpoise in the Salish Sea
In the 1940s, harbor porpoise were among the most frequently sighted cetaceans in Puget Sound, but by the early 1970s they had all but disappeared from local waters. Their numbers have since increased, but they remain a Species of Concern in the state of Washington. This in-depth profile looks at harbor porpoise in the Salish Sea, and was prepared by the SeaDoc Society for inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Status and trends of harbor porpoises in the Salish Sea
Harbor porpoises declined dramatically in the Salish Sea in the 1970s but their populations have since rebounded, increasing by more than 10% per year in recent decades. A 2020 report for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound examines harbor porpoise status and trends, natural history and recent policy considerations for the species.
Harbor porpoises become increasing players in the Puget Sound food web
With a population growth of about 10 percent per year in inland waters, harbor porpoises are having an undetermined but growing effect on food dynamics in Puget Sound.
The return of the pig
After an almost complete collapse in the 1970s, harbor porpoise populations in Puget Sound have rebounded. Scientists are celebrating the recovery of the species sometimes known as the "puffing pig."
Resident killer whales sometimes attack porpoises but never eat them
The mysterious practice of killing porpoises may have a useful function, but it has yet to be fully explained, according to orca researcher Deborah Giles.
Disappearance and return of harbor porpoise to Puget Sound
A 2016 technical report from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Cascadia Research Collective details the decline of the harbor porpoise in Puget Sound in the 1970s and reports that species numbers have increased over the past twenty years likely due to outside immigration.
Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena vomerina): Washington inland waters stock
Harbor porpoises were once common in Puget Sound, but had all but disappeared from local waters by the 1970s. Regular and numerous anecdotal sightings in recent years show that populations of these cetaceans are now increasing and may be approaching their former status. The attached document from NOAA Fisheries describes harbor porpoise numbers and their geographic range in Puget Sound as of 2011.
HARBOR PORPOISE (Phocoena phocoena vomerina): Washington Inland Waters Stock (NOAA Fisheries 2011)
Antibiotic resistance of bacteria in two marine mammal species, harbor seals and harbor porpoises, living in an urban marine ecosystem, the Salish Sea, Washington State, USA
Harbor seals and harbor porpoises in the Salish Sea are showing a relatively high presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A 2021 paper in the journal Oceans suggests that these findings may indicate a wider problem among other species in the region.
Prey-related asphyxiation in harbor porpoises
A paper published in the journal Oceans in 2020 describes cases of prey-related asphyxiation in harbor porpoises along the U.S. West Coast. The findings suggest that a majority of cases involve non-native American shad and that asphyxiation tends to occur more with reproductively active females than other age and sex classes.
Fungal disease a rising concern for local marine mammals
A 2020 paper published in Frontiers in Marine Science describes details of the fungal disease Mucormycosis which has caused the death of harbor porpoises, harbor seals and one orca in Puget Sound in recent years. The authors discuss the implications for local marine mammals, specifically the endangered southern resident killer whale population.
Group characteristics, site fidelity, and photo-identification of harbor porpoises, Phocoena phocoena, in Burrows Pass, Fidalgo Island, Washington
A 2017 paper in the journal Marine Mammal Science examines harbor porpoise group structure and site fidelity in the Salish Sea.
2015 Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program released its fifth annual Marine Waters Overview this week. The report provides an assessment of marine conditions for the year 2015 and includes updates on water quality as well as status reports for select plankton, seabirds, fish and marine mammals.
Increased harbor porpoise mortality in the Pacific Northwest, USA: understanding when higher levels may be normal
A 2015 paper in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms examines potential causes of increased harbor porpoise strandings in Washington and Oregon.
Living in the fast lane: rapid development of the locomotor muscle in immature harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena)
A study in the Journal of Comparative Physiology shows that muscle development necessary for diving can take several years to mature in harbor porpoises. Scientists argue that this may make immature harbor porpoises more vulnerable than adults to impacts from boat traffic or other disturbances.
Population structure and intergeneric hybridization in harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena in British Columbia, Canada
A 2014 paper in Endangered Species Research suggests that harbour porpoises inhabiting coastal waters of southern British Columbia constitute a single genetic population, which should be reflected in management decisions.
2013 Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview
A report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program provides an overview of 2013 marine water quality and conditions in Puget Sound from comprehensive monitoring and observing programs.
Statement on Salish Sea Harbor Porpoise Research and Management Needs
Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) are one of the most frequently sighted cetaceans in the Salish Sea. Anecdotal information, possibly supported with stranding encounter rate data, suggests that harbor porpoise may have increased in Puget Sound, or have shifted their distribution back to Puget Sound relative to earlier decades.