Finding a sense of porpoise.
Being a porpoise looks rubbish.
Dolphins look like they have fun. They even look like they seek out fun. Okay, the fixed grins make them seem perpetually happy but let’s be honest – when was the last time you saw a porpoise jumping out of the water or heard a friend gushing about an *amazing* experience seeing porpoises?
There’s good reason that porpoises don’t have the wow factor of dolphins: and it’s not just that they have bad PR people.
Porpoises are busy: lots to do, fish to eat. They live on an ecological knife-edge, and need to keep feeding to keep their energy levels up. They simply don’t have a lot of spare time to be cavorting around. Of course it doesn’t help their public recognition levels that five out of six of the world’s porpoise species are small, grey and shy. Mostly they stay local too – not for them massive migrations or great oceanic treks, porpoises are built for coastal waters, where they often form distinct local populations.
Some would say that porpoises have the right idea, because they generally avoid human contact, whereas silly dolphins often seek it out. Sadly that doesn’t stop thousands of porpoises being caught and killed every year in fishing nets as bycatch. They face other threats too, including toxic pollution and increasingly populated coastal seas, with dredging, noise, shipping and litter all impacting them and their living space.
Porpoises are supposed to be protected. So all of that ‘accidental’ bycatch can’t just be shrugged off as unfortunate – it shouldn’t be happening. In the UK and around Europe some porpoise populations are now under genuine threat from the combined effects of bycatch, pollution and habitat loss. Porpoises are already almost extinct in the Baltic Sea, and British scientists have warned that persistent pollutants are affecting their ability to breed and withstand disease too.
Across the globe this week we have seen the stark warning of just how far we are pushing our porpoises. The tiny, little-seen vaquita, smallest and cutest of all the porpoises, is on the brink of extinction. Already-dire reports that less than a hundred animals survived have been revised downwards – with scientists now thinking there are only about 60 left.
Like all porpoises, the vaquita live in increasingly-busy seas, but the main threat is fisheries bycatch, the same threat that kills an estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide EVERY YEAR.
But for vanishing vaquita, every single animal now really matters.
Porpoises might not catch your eye, but they do need your help. You can make a difference by choosing line-caught fish, lobbying for more and better protected areas for porpoises, and by supporting Greenpeace and other groups fighting to save them.
And spare a thought for the small, shy, grey animal that just gives you a fleeting glimpse of fin as it hurries away from you. After all, being a porpoise is rubbish.