Friday, 28 June 2013

Porp Stuff...


I follow your blog regularly and live in hope that one day I will be able to report a sighting in my locality of Swansea. In the 1960`s porpoises I am informed were a common sight off Mumbles.  There have been a number of sporadic sightings in the last couple of years of dolphins and porpoises off the Gower and a dolphin very close to the promenade at Mumbles.  Regrettably, I only ever come across washed up porpoises with the most recent yesterday at Cefn Sidan beach and a large porpoise on Jersey Marine between Neath and Swansea in 2006.

I have attached some photos of the porpoise on Cefn Sidan in case you are interested. It was approx 30 to 36 inches long and the carcass looked fresh. I am curious as to the cause of its demise and whether it was killed by a dolphin, but a dolphin would not have opened it up or any sea bird either?


Stephen John

Hi Stephen,  great to have you with us! we do get occasional reports of porpoises off Swansea and have seen them ourselves from various boats, but as you say they are not so common there.  Common Dolphins are often around in good numbers further out west in the Bristol Channel but again you really need a boat to see them.
Yep,  I think porpoises were a lot commoner in all our UK and Irish waters until fishing became industrialised in the 19th  Century. Literature regarding Porpoises historicaly seems scarce and it might be worthwhile someone actually doing some research on this. Certainly I have heard of Swansea Bay being full of porpoisesin days gone by,  although in the 19 century Porpoise was a generic name for smaller cetaceans including dolphins, which is also the case in the US today. 
I know they were shot in some tidal rivers to preserve Salmon and Sewin. Thousands must have died in the drift nets of the herring fisheries. Herman Melville tells us in his epic novel Moby Dick that a porpoise could produce a gallon  of good quality oil. In these days when all we need  in terms of light, heating and food can be obtained with a debit card, it is difficult to realise what a windfall a nice freshly stranded porpoise would have been a couple of hundred years ago!
Yours however might not be such a big windfall as it appears to have been disembowelled. Porpoises killed by Dolphins are not ripped apart but generally bashed to death so not disembowelled. On this evidence and in this case, I think the dolphin goes free with an unblemished character!
Its possible that it was hacked out of a fishing net and dumped, or maybe it was a propellor strike. There is a guy called Rod Penrose of the Welsh Marine Mammal Strandings Agency who is the guy to report any dead   animals or sea turtles to :
Either way Stephen, keep on looking and we look forwards to a report of a live animal ! allthingsagood cliff (walrus)
Yesterday we went out with Dan Worth of Razorbill Ribs and Justin of BBC Radio Wales,  looking for Porpoises. for a piece that will be on the Louse Elliot show in the near future Dans Rib is equipped with water  jet propulsion so no chance of mangling a porpoise  like the one in the picture. We had some really nice views. particularly off Penm Anglas  with a nice mother and small calf.  We were bobbing around concentrating on the interview so no photo's quite as good as this one from Richard Stonier! 
                                          Photo curtesy Richard  Stonier.