Unusual harbour porpoise activity off Prince Rupert coast

VIDEO: North Coast Cetacean Research Initiative say the porpoises’ activity is unique

They may be small and elusive, but lately a large group of harbour porpoises, full of energy, have been hanging out in the mouth of the Prince Rupert harbour.

Research squad, Caitlin Birdsall and Karina Dracott, with the North Coast Cetacean Research Initiative, took their boat out into the harbour to have a look at the uncommon sighting for themselves.

“We saw a lot of high level activities with the porpoises. There were mothers and calves out there, which was really great to see,” Dracott said. “Every direction we looked they were flying through the water. There’s a lot of energy, which usually they’re kind of slow moving.”

The porpoises were moving so quickly they had trouble capturing them on camera.

READ MORE: Whale festival makes a splash

For the past two years, the research team has been studying the harbour porpoises, a special concern species, in the Prince Rupert area. They’re using an underwater listening device called a ‘Sea Pod’ to listen for high frequency clicks that the harbour porpoises emit. Another monitoring tactic they use is by conducting surveys.

“We have a land-based spot that we take a high powered scope out, and we basically count the number of harbour porpoises using that area,” Birdsall said.

Seeing this group in the harbour is unique, Dracott said, especially considering the vessel traffic in the area. Along the coast, this is the second largest aggregation of harbour porpoises they’ve seen on an annual basis.

“I think it is unusual that we are seeing harbour porpoises using an area that is quite busy in terms of being close to Ridley Island and the terminal there,” Birdsall said. “One of the reasons we want to understand how they’re using that area and when they’re using it is to be able to work with different industry groups to better protect and reduce disturbances.”

Funding for the project has come from the federal government’s Ocean Protection Plan, through the baseline monitoring program, as well as from the Port of Prince Rupert.

READ MORE: Marine activity growth leads to protection plan

“They’ve played a pretty large role in helping with the logistics of this project, getting out on the water, and helping to deploy the acoustic monitoring device,” Dracott said.

Citizens are encouraged to do their part as well. They can download the WhaleReport app by Ocean Wise Conservation Association, which is free, and an easy way to submit a report after spotting harbour porpoises, and other cetaceans, whales, dolphins, in the area.

To report a typo, email: editor@thenorthernview.com.

Shannon Lough | Editor
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