Whale of the Month - Harbour Porpoise
May‘s whale of the month is the harbour porpoise, which is included in the 3rd stop of our audio guide. Harbour porpoises are one of the most common species seen in Faxaflói Bay and can be seen year-round. They have a shorter lifespan than many of the other cetaceans we have covered, averaging between 8-12 years. Some individuals are thought to live into their early 20s, but this is rare. Their average size is between 1.5-2 meters in length (5-6.5 feet) and they weigh between 60-70 kg.
Harbour porpoises are one of the smallest cetaceans in the world and live primarily in coastal areas. They are dark grey or brown with light grey-white markings on their sides and neck. They have rounded heads and spade-shaped teeth. They use their teeth to eat a wide variety of fish (a 2003 study from Iceland showed over 40 different types of fish and invertebrates in the stomachs of harbour porpoises), though they primarily feed on capelin, whiting, sandeels, and the occasional squid.
They are often seen alone or in small groups of 2-3 individuals, but larger groups have been observed in areas where food is abundant. These small cetaceans are not deep divers, with a maximum recorded depth of 34 meters. While not as vocal as dolphins, they do use clicks and echolocation to communicate with each other.
Killer whales, white sharks, and grey seals are all predators of the harbour porpoise. Bottlenose dolphins are also known to attack porpoises, though not as hunting/feeding behavior. While the exact reason for the dolphin attacks is not certain, it is thought to perhaps be in response to competition to food sources. Other threats that the harbour porpoise faces include fishing nets, chemical and noise pollution, and hunting.
Harbour porpoises are seen all around Iceland throughout the year. While they can sometimes be quite shy and difficult to spot at a distance, whale watching companies in Reykjavík often see them. They are also commonly spotted on tours close to the shore or around the small islands just outside of Reykjavík‘s Old Harbour. To try your luck in seeing these small and sturdy porpoises, you can book a Whale Watching Tour with our friends at Special Tours.