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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Harbor Porpoise Phocoena phocoena

One of the most common cetaceans in the Northern Hemisphere, the harbor porpoise, as its name suggests, rarely strays into deep water. It prefers shallow, coastal waters and sometimes swims into rivers. The harbor porpoise has a short, barrel-like body, with small flippers and a blunt dorsal fin. Its overall color is dark gray, while its underside is paler. Unlike most dolphins, the harbor porpoise has a blunt snout, which houses 21–28 pairs of spade-shaped teeth in each jaw. Harbor porpoises often live alone, or sometimes in pairs or small groups; they feed on fish and shellfish.

Female harbor porpoises give birth after a gestation period of up to 11 months, and the single calf is tiny by cetacean standards, weighing as little as 13 lb (6 kg). In the past, harbor porpoises were often hunted for meat and as a source of oil. Today, a greater threat is posed by fishing nets—being small, it is easy for harbor porpoises to become accidentally trapped.

Harbor Porpoisezoom image
  • Order Cetacea
  • Length 4–6 ft (1.4–2 m)
  • Weight Up to 145 lb (65 kg)
  • Habitat Coastal waters, tidal regions of rivers
  • Distribution Cold-temperate and subpolar waters in Northern Hemisphere
Harbor Porpoise habitat mapzoom image