Harbour porpoises on the move, or just especially elusive?
The past few months have been significant for rare sightings of some species of whales and dolphins (north Pacific right whales off the west coast of the US, a grey whale in Namibia – the first ever sighting of the species in the southern hemisphere, and common dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea) – now however it’s the turn of their smaller cousin, the harbour porpoise.
Researchers surveying in the northern Aegean Sea (which lies between Greece and Turkey – see map) have sighted what they believe to be the the first confirmed sightings of live harbour porpoises in Aegean waters since 1997.
Thought to be extinct in the Mediterranean since the 19th century, there have only been two live sightings of this species in the area (one group in 1993 and one lone individual in 1997) and further documentation of several dead stranded animals on Greek and Turkish coasts each year. The researchers were treated to sightings of four groups of porpoises – and perhaps many more recored on their underwater acoustic equipment – a first for Turkish Aegean waters and the first in over 16 years in the Mediterranean.
There is some speculation that these animals are actually part of the endangered and genetically distinct sub-species of Black Sea harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena relicta) and have travelled to the Aegean from the Black Sea. However, there is still the possibility that a Mediterranean sub-population exists.
If one thing is for sure, whales, dolphins and porpoises continue to surprise us!