We had an interesting phone call on Saturday of a sighting of five cetaceans in the River Severn. The observer, Billie Davis, originally thought the animals to be dolphins but on sending a video recording and screenshots over to our Director, Peter, he was able to identify them as harbour porpoises.
Although porpoises occasionally travel up English rivers they usually do so solo or in pairs. It is unusual to see as many as five porpoises so far from the sea. In December 2013, a pod of five harbour porpoise were sighted in the River Thames near Tower Bridge. Stephen Mowat, a marine conservationist from ZSL, suggested they could be so far up the river due to the recent storm surge and improved conditions of the Thames. They were likely following fish prey up the river. This is likely a similar story to what was seen near Tewkesbury Weir on Saturday.
The British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) also received reports of porpoises in the River Severn, although they had a count of two individuals. They said that the two porpoises had been seen along the river for at least 24 hours and the police were called to the site following reports of the public seen trying to enter the water. Porpoises are extremely shy animals and it is paramount that they are not disturbed or approached as they can become easily stressed. It is also a criminal offence to disturb cetaceans, that is whales, dolphins and porpoises. The BDMLR ensured they would continue to monitor the behaviour of the porpoises as they hopefully make their way back out to sea.
We’d like to thank Billie Davis for alerting us to this sighting on Saturday. With reports of sightings across the UK such as this we are able to monitor the status and distribution of cetaceans in our coastal waters – and our rivers! If you’d like to help us to monitor whales, dolphins and porpoises there is no better time than now! This Saturday marks the beginning of our 21st National Whale and Dolphin Watch. This citizen science event offers the chance for members of the public to become citizen scientists, getting out to the coastline either on land or by boat to record and help create a “snapshot” of the whales, dolphins and porpoises in our waters over a short period of time. The data that is collected is then used to support our research and the growing movement to understand and protect these marine mammals. If you’d like to find out more about National Whale and Dolphin Watch you can visit this page, or keep up with our latest sightings throughout the week here. Find out about your nearest watches and events here.
Katie Baker Communication and Outreach Officer