Phocoena phocoena (harbour porpoise)


Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena © Boris Culik


Phocoena phocoena the harbour porpoise is found in cool temperate to sub-polar waters in the northern hemisphere. There are an estimated 700,000 harbour porpoises globally, therefore the species is not currently a major conservation concern.

Porpoises are difficult to approach and follow, generally avoiding boats and other human activity.  

Though fast swimmers, they are not acrobatic, rarely breaching or leaping.  They make brief dives, usually lasting for less than five minutes.  They will often lie motionless at the surface on calm days, either resting or scanning the water below (Watson and Gaskin, 1983).  Dive depths in excess of 200 metres have been recorded (Westgate et al, 1995).

Hunting and exploitation by humans, exposure to environmental contaminants and incidental capture in fishing nets are the main threats to the harbour porpoise (Jefferson et al, 2008).

The Natural History Museum, London, is part of a government-funded collaborative UK research group gathering data on strandings. These data help inform conservation policy makers at both UK and EU level (NHM strandings website, UKCSIP website). They are the most frequently stranded of all cetacean species in UK waters.

Species detail

The harbour porpoise

  • is a stocky, rotund animal with a broad-based, low, triangular dorsal fin and small, oval pectoral flippers.
  • has a short-beaked head with a dark line that runs from the back of the mouth to the leading edge of the dorsal fin
  • Phocoena phocoena

    Learn about the form and structure of the harbour porpoise and find out about the four subspecies.

  • Phocoena phocoena
    Distribution and ecology

    Discover the areas of the world that harbour porpoises are known from and the types of habitat they are found in. Find out about the estimated global poulation of harbour porpoises and learn about the feeding patterns of the species.

  • phocoena-phocoena

    Find out about the size and weight of the harbour porpoise as well as its life expectancy. Discover the main predators that prey on this species.

  • Phocoena phocoena

    Porpoises are difficult to approach and follow, generally avoiding boats and other human activity. Find out more about the behaviour of this species.

  • Phocoena phocoena

    Find out the conservation status of the harbour porpoise. Learn the range of threats to the species and the management practices in place to ensure its ongoing survival.

  • Phocoena phocoena

    Get reference material for Phocoena phocoena.