The Porpoise (Extract)

Far in Pacific tides, the passing fleet
Bound for remotest India, meets thy shoals,
Tumbling and plunging past the foamy prow;
And oft the seaman on the vessel's deck
Transfixes thee with lance or sharp harpoon.
In the salt bays and estuaries wide,
Far as the broad Atlantic beats the coast,
From coral reefs of Florida to the rocks
Of utmost North, thy roving schools abound.

Isaac, Jr. McLellan

The Harbour Porpoise

The Hebrides is the European home of this little grey herring hog, smallest of its kin. Its pied beauty beneath the waves is lost on the surface; our familiar inky black eyebrow view. For up to twenty years it will pursue herring, sprat and sand eel down to two or three hundred metres, diving every five minutes or so with less showy determination than some of its more acrobatic brothers.

They enjoy each other’s company as they huff and puff around the inshore waters, trying to avoid the big bad black-and-white sea wolf. Shy and elusive, one should not mistake this natural timidity for lack of courage as it appears they have no problem growing a pair!

They are very chatty, particularly when hunting, with a range of clicks whistles and pops that we can only half appreciate. A highly efficient sonar is just as well as some porpoises have such bad eyesight they appear to wear spectacles. Sadly their piggyness lets them down at the table as they don’t chew their food but gulp it down whole.

Yet again I am afraid we are their big problem. This little piggy goes to market in some of our most heavily trafficked areas and we make such a racket that it is bound to interfere with their delicate narrative. They are a protected species which is just as well, as their hunting behaviour brings them perilously close to most fishing gear and our boorish marine activity contributes to increasing numbers being stranded