Porpoise beach strandings worry scientists
Source: Elisabeth Murray, The Whidbey Examiner
A dark fin flashes as it breaks the water’s surface.
The sun reflects off of the small triangle, a beacon announcing the presence of the harbor porpoise in the churning water. Shorebirds dart into the fray, searching and competing for dinner. Another fin appears. A pod of porpoise hunts in the waters just off of Fort Casey State Park on a sunny July afternoon.
No one knows how many of these marine mammals live in the waters around Whidbey Island.
The most recent porpoise population census was conducted more than a decade ago, said Jessie Huggins, stranding coordinator for Cascadia Research Collective, an Olympia-based organization that studies marine mammals such as porpoises and whales.
But plans are in the works to conduct an aerial survey to determine the number of harbor porpoises in Puget Sound. Orcas have been counted annually since the late 1970s.
“Orcas are pretty visible, but a lot of people are unaware that the harbor porpoise is in the area,” National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman Brian Gorman said.
The harbor porpoise is typically about five feet long and can weigh around 130 pounds.
But in May, this species became extremely visible for some local beach walkers. The discovery of three dead harbor porpoises on the Whidbey shoreline in a two-day period raised some concern about these aquatic creatures.
Scientists and marine mammal advocates say that they do not yet know what killed the marine mammals, Huggins said.
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To report a sighting or stranding in the Salish Sea (particular around the San Juan Islands), contact the Whale Hotline at (800) 562-8832 or send an email to the Hotline.