Phocoenoides – Dall’s porpoise

Largest and fastest of all porpoises; they look like a black & white blur as they shoot past

Dall’s porpoises are robust and dynamic members of the porpoise family, distinguished by their unique physical characteristics and preference for the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the North Pacific Ocean. These marine mammals are particularly adapted to life in deep coastal and offshore environments, ranging from the temperate to subarctic regions, including the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, extending as far south as the northern parts of the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico.

Characterized by their striking black and white coloration, Dall’s porpoises are among the fastest of all small cetaceans, capable of reaching speeds up to 55 km/h (34 mph). This speed, combined with their robust, muscular bodies, allows them to create distinctive “rooster tails” of water spray when surfacing, making them easily recognizable by observers. Unlike many other porpoise species, Dall’s porpoises have a relatively large dorsal fin and a thick body that tapers to a small head, giving them a unique appearance among their relatives.

Despite their substantial population, Dall’s porpoises face significant threats that necessitate urgent conservation measures. One of the most pressing issues is their entanglement in fishing gear, particularly gillnets, which results in high mortality rates. Accidental bycatch in these nets is a common problem as these porpoises often share habitats with commercially targeted fish species.

Another significant threat to Dall’s porpoises comes from direct hunts, especially in Japanese coastal waters, where they are caught for human consumption. While negotiations between Japan and international conservation organizations have led to some regulatory improvements, the practice continues to pose a risk to their populations. Furthermore, issues like ocean pollution, including chemical contaminants and plastic debris, and the risk of ship strikes in busy maritime corridors add to the challenges faced by these porpoises.