Recently, a solitary harbour porpoise was spotted displaying some very unusual behaviour for what is typically an understated, seemingly retiring, species.
The “Dale Princess” which runs tours to Skomer Island was on its normal route when the individual in question made an unexpected appearance and for over ten minutes was seen bow riding in the wake of the boat. Luckily one of the fast thinking crew managed to film this terrific footage to verify this seldom seen occurrence.
Although harbour porpoises are Britain’s most abundant cetacean, it is unusual to obtain much more than a fleeting glimpse of them. “I was amazed when I first saw this footage as harbour porpoises are famously timid animals and usually shy away from any type of human interaction. This behaviour is extremely rare and would be more commonly associated with bottlenose and common dolphins” said Sea Watch Foundation’s Education and Public Awareness Assistant, John Pye.
“Dolphins and porpoises are highly intelligent animals and we often see that dolphins, particularly, have adapted their natural behaviours to interact with human vessels. This is the first record I have seen of porpoises bow-riding in UK waters, says Sea Watch’s Sightings Officer, Kathy James, but the charity’s Director, Dr Peter Evans points out that “in August and September porpoises do become more confiding as they socialise with each other in preparation for mating.” “One can imagine that since this boat makes regular trips to Skomer, individual porpoises will have become very familiar with it, and no longer view it as a threat” says Kathy. “In the absence of humans, dolphins can be spotted riding large oceanic waves and ‘’surfing’’ across the seas. When no waves are present they have even been spotted purposefully annoying larger whales. this causes the whales to surge forward creating a bow wave which the dolphins then ride. “The bow-riding porpoise gave the particular group of boat passengers an unrivalled opportunity to see this elusive species close at hand” continues Kathy. However, it may be that this type of behaviour is becoming more common in the area. Derek Lister, a crew member on board the “Dale Princess”, has spotted this behaviour more than once in 2014 and said that ”this year some of them have even come ‘porpoising’ next to the boat”.