Oh look, there’s a dolphin! Just as pigs have wings, it’s not likely a dolphin in the Salish Sea. But there are two porpoise species here, and maybe that’s even better. If you spot a momentary dolphin-like fin, or even a group of them surfacing and then quickly diving, it’s either a Dall’s porpoise or harbor porpoise. Both are about the size of an adult person, but they each act very differently. Dall’s are chunkier and love to ride your bow wave, while the harbor porpoise is much shier. White distinctive spot on the side, dorsal fin and tail? Swims so fast it makes a rooster tail? It’s a Dall’s. More subtly dark gray or black without well-defined spots – acts like a librarian? Harbor porpoise.
I drew a sketchbook comparison with orcas for you. Porpoise are much smaller, so when you spot a fin or back, you’ll realize it’s not one of our killer whales. Harbor porpoise were once common throughout Puget Sound, but they are now rarely seen south of Seattle – and no one knows why. I wish they could tell us, but porpoise have many other problems. Clearly an unsustainable number, over 15,000 of them are killed each year when they become entangled in fishing nets!
Larry paints and blogs about wild places at larryeifert.com. His work can be seen in many national parks across America.