Oceans (2023)

DOI: 10.3390/oceans4030019


Harbor porpoises are typically seen in small groups of 1–3 individuals, with aggregations of 20+ individuals treated as rare events. Since the 1990s, the harbor porpoise population in the Salish Sea has seen a significant recovery, and an increased number of observed aggregations that exceed the more usual small group sizes has been observed in recent years. By combining the observational data of United States and Canadian research organizations, community scientists, and whale watch captains or naturalists, we demonstrate that harbor porpoise aggregations appear to be more common than previously known, with 160 aggregations documented in 2022 alone. Behavioral data also indicate that foraging behaviors are common and social behaviors, like mating, are seen more often during these encounters compared to small groups. Other behaviors that are considered to be rare or unknown were also observed during these encounters, including cooperative foraging and vessel approach. These aggregations are likely important foraging and social gatherings for harbor porpoises. This holistic approach integrating data from two countries and multiple sources provides a population level assessment that more effectively reflects the behavior of harbor porpoises in this region, which do not recognize the socio-political boundaries imposed upon the natural world.