What do you do on Christmas Day when your family lives abroad, does not celebrate the holidays or you simply enjoy spending a few hours motionless in the cold? Okay, ‘enjoy’ might be the wrong term here. But that is exactly what we did last Christmas. With the marine weather forecast finally promising a calm sea, there was no stopping us from heading out to West Vancouver and watch for harbour porpoise.
Most people don’t even notice the tiny dorsal fins as the animals gently roll out of the water to breathe, and their sharp exhales just a few hundred metres off shore, right in West Vancouver’s ocean backyard. Harbour porpoise can be notoriously hard to find in all but the best conditions, and there is usually little to see that matches a breaching killer whale.
But for us, a group of enthusiasts, naturalists, educators and scientists, this is the stuff we get our adrenaline fix from. It was no different this time when, wrapped in thick winter clothes and blankets, we stood ready to record every moment of the spectacle we were patiently waiting to begin. And success was not guaranteed. But sure enough, after what seemed like an endless wait, we heard an exhale in the distance, and another one shortly after. And then we spotted the first dorsal fins not too far from shore. We soon realized there were multiple groups of Harbour Porpoise foraging right in front of us, and even a calf.
As always, we tried to be all professional: one meticulously recording every aspect of every sighting, one scanning the surface for more activity and shouting distances and angles, another one taking pictures. But really, this was all so exciting we barely noticed how an hour had passed when the re-sightings got less frequent. And with the setting sun, the porpoises finally disappeared in the distance.
We were frozen solid, shaking from having spent way too much time in the cold. But it was worth it. Data collected for the Porpoise Conservation Society, countless pictures taken, and time spent with friends who all share one passion. What a night.
But the real surprise came when back home we were analyzing the video footage we had shot in the afternoon. What we believed to be one porpoise in a short video clip turned out to be two, and one was leaping out of the water. Even more of a surprise was seeing the erect penis of the animal closest to us, quite obviously a healthy male harbour porpoise. Yes, we somehow managed to capture a mating attempt on video. And for those who had never seen what 4-6% of the body weight looks like, well, this was their opportunity. Have a look yourself…