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BC Conservation Data Centre: Species Summary

Phocoena phocoena
Harbour Porpoise

Scientific Name: Phocoena phocoena (Linnaeus, 1758)
English Name: Harbour Porpoise
Classification / Taxonomy
Scientific Name - Concept Reference: Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder (editors). 1993. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Second edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. xviii + 1206 pp. Available online at:
Classification Level: Species
Species Group: Vertebrate Animal
Species Code: M-PHPH
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Craniata Mammalia Cetacea Phocoenidae
Conservation Status / Legal Designation
Global Status: G4G5 (Apr 2016)
Provincial Status: S3S4 (Jan 2022)
BC List: Blue
Provincial FRPA list:   
Provincial Wildlife Act:
COSEWIC Status: Special Concern (Apr 2016)
SARA Schedule: 1  -  Special Concern (Jul 2005)
SARA Comments: ssp. vomerina only
General Status Canada:
Ecology & Life History
General Description: See Koopman and Gaskin (1994, Can. J. Zool. 72:135-143) for information on individual and geographic variation in pigmentation patterns (no strong geogrphic pattern).
Global Reproduction Comments: Breeds in summer. Following a gestation of 10-11 months, a single calf is born between May and early August. Females breed each year. Young weaned in 8 months. In Bay of Fundy, sexually mature in 3-4 years (5-6 years in north Sea). Few live beyond 7-8 years.
Global Ecology Comments: Social; travels in groups of 2-10, sometimes up to 50 individuals; may segregate by sex and/or age.
Migration Characteristics:
(Global / Provincial)
    Local Migrant:
    Distant Migrant:
    Within Borders Migrant:
Y /
Y /
N /
na /
Global Migration Comments: May make seasonal inshore (summer) - offshore (winter) or north (summer) - south (winter) migrations, though movements often are related to movements of prey species (IUCN 1991).
(Type / Subtype / Dependence)
Ocean / Pelagic / Facultative - occasional use
Ocean / Sheltered Waters - Marine / Facultative - frequent use
Global Habitat Comments: Coastal waters and adjacent offshore shallows; also inhabits inshore areas such as bays, channels, and rivers. Mothers and young tend to move into sheltered coves and similar sites soon after parturition.
Provincial Habitat Comments: Marine
Food Habits: Invertivore: Adult, Immature
Piscivore: Adult, Immature
Global Food Habits Comments: Eats various fishes, squid, and crustaceans. In summer in the Bay of Fundy, adults fed mainly on clupeid and gadid fishes while euphausiids were the most common prey of calves (Can. J. Zool. 70:1629).
Global Phenology: Circadian: Adult, Immature
Global Phenology Comments: Active day/night.
Provincial Phenology:
(1st half of month/
2nd half of month)
Colonial Breeder: N
Length(cm)/width(cm)/Weight(g): 1800/ / 54000
Elevation (m) (min / max): Global: 
Endemic: N
Global Range Comment: Temperate and ice-free boreal zone of northern hemisphere; summer visitor to the productive fringes of the Arctic Ocean (Gaskin 1992; Suydam and George, 1992, Can. Field-Nat. 106:489-492); isolated population in the Black Sea; south to Senegal in the eastern Atlantic. Has disappeared from parts of the Baltic Sea, the southern North Sea, and portions of the central California coast (see Read et al. 1993). See also IUCN (1991) for distribution information.
Authors / Contributors
Global Information Author: Hammerson, G.
Last Updated: Sep 06, 1994
Provincial Information Author:
Last Updated:
References and Related Literature
B.C. Ministry of Environment. Recovery Planning in BC. B.C. Minist. Environ. Victoria, BC.
Banfield, A. W. F. 1974. The mammals of Canada. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Canada. 438 pp.
COSEWIC. 2003j. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena (Pacific Ocean population) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vi + 22 pp.
Folkens, P. 1984. The whale watcher's handbook. Doubleday Co., Inc., Garden City, NY 208 pp.
Gao, A., and D. E. Gaskin. 1996. Geographical variation in metric skull characters among proposed subpopulations and stocks of harbor porpoise, PHOCOENA PHOCOENA, in the western North Atlantic. Marine Mammal Science 12:516-527.
Gaskin, D. E. 1992. Status of the harbour porpoise, PHOCOENA PHOCOENA, in Canada. Can. Field-Nat. 106:36-54.
Godin, A. J. 1977. Wild mammals of New England. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 304 pp.
Hall, E. R. 1981a. The Mammals of North America, second edition. Vols. I & II. John Wiley & Sons, New York, New York. 1181 pp.
IUCN (World Conservation Union). 1991. Dolphins, Porpoises and Whales of the World: the IUCN Red Data Book. M. Klinowska (compiler). IUCN, Gland, Switzerland, and Cambridge, United Kingdom. viii + 429 pp.
Katona, S. K., V. Rough, and D. T. Richardson. 1983. A Field guide to the whales, porpoises, and seals of the gulf of Maine and eastern Canada. Cape Cod to Newfoundland. Charles Scribner's Sons, N.Y. 255 pp.
Leatherwood, S., and R. R. Reeves. 1983. The Sierra Club handbook of whales and dolphins. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco. 302 pp.
Nichol, L.M., A.M. Hall, G.M. Ellis, et al. 2013. Dietary overlap and niche partitioning of sympatric harbour porpoises and Dall?s porpoises in the Salish Sea. Progress in Oceanography, 115, pp.202-210.
Read, A. J., and D. E. Gaskin. 1988. Incidental catch of harbor porpoises by gill nets. J. Wildl. Manage. 52:517-523.
Read, A. J., Kraus, S. D., Bisack, K. D., and Palka, D. 1993. Harbor porpoises and gill nets in the Gulf of Maine. Conservation Biology 7:189-193.
Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder (editors). 1993. Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Second edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC. xviii + 1206 pp. Available online at:

Please visit the website Conservation Status Ranks for definitions of the data fields used in this summary report.

Suggested Citation:

B.C. Conservation Data Centre. 1994. Species Summary: Phocoena phocoena. B.C. Minist. of Environment. Available: (accessed Apr 21, 2024).