The Journal of Wildlife Management (2024)

DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.22543


Harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) are the only cetaceans routinely sighted in Hood Canal, a narrow fjord that comprises the western edge of Puget Sound, Washington, USA. Harbor porpoises are sensitive to anthropogenic sounds, including noise from recreational and commercial vessel traffic, and the United States Navy, which conducts military training and testing within Hood Canal that can include underwater sound sources. This study was funded as part of the Navy monitoring program to assess potential impacts of naval activities on cetaceans. We conducted vessel-based line-transect surveys for harbor porpoises in Hood Canal in 2022–2023 to derive seasonal estimates of abundance and density. We carried out surveys over 37 days and surveyed the entire canal twice per season totaling 2,176 km of on-effort track line. We recorded 809 on-effort harbor porpoise groups and 1,385 individuals. Seasonal abundance estimates were lowest in winter (308 animals, 95% CI = 189–503) and gradually increased through spring and summer to a peak of 1,336 animals (95% CI = 826–2,160) in fall. Overall porpoise density was highest in central Hood Canal, an area that includes a designated United States Navy training range, though porpoise sightings were notably absent in a 21-km2 area adjacent to the naval submarine base within this otherwise high-density region. Though we collected only a single year of data, these results suggest that harbor porpoise abundance in Hood Canal increased significantly since it was last estimated (2013–2015). The notable seasonal fluctuation of harbor porpoise abundance suggests Hood Canal may host a larger percentage of the overall Washington Inland Waters stock during the fall season, raising important management considerations.