February 5th, 2023
British Columbia’s marine environment is buzzing with life. While some creatures meander in the deepness of the sea, others prefer hanging closer to the coastline. The Dall’s porpoise dabbles in a bit of both, with their swift swimming skills propelling them great distances with ease. It’s common to see Dall’s porpoises in coastal BC as they live year round in the North Pacific Ocean.
KILLER WHALE VS DALL’S PORPOISE
If paired up in a race with a whale or a dolphin, the Dall’s porpoise will take the lead. Moving at speeds of 55 kilometres per hour, Dall’s porpoises are the fastest cetaceans in BC and one of the only marine mammals that can outswim a killer whale. They move in a distinct zigzag pattern, jerking quickly from side to side in steep angled turns. When cruising at high speeds, the tops of their bodies will surface and create what is known as a rooster-tail splash. It happens when a cone of water forms around their heads, creating an airspace to breathe as they swim. Speaking of breathing, porpoises have lungs but no gills. There’s a blowhole on the top of their head, which works like a valve, inhaling and exhaling air as they carve in and out of the water.
Often mistaken for killer whale calves at quick glance, they also have a black body with a large white patch. Dall’s porpoises are robust and muscular in form, typically measuring around 2 metres long and weighing upwards of 400 pounds. These plump and energetic porpoises feed on a range of species like herring, anchovies, mackerel, octopus, squid and cuttlefish. Usually, they wait until nightfall when their prey migrates to the surface of the water, making for easier targets. And if that doesn’t work out, these impressive mammals can dive deeper than 1500 feet to rustle up some grub!
DALL’S PORPOISES: THE LIFE OF THE PARTY
Due to their quick nature, there’s some mystery to the social life and migration of Dall’s porpoises in BC. While they often stick to groups of 2 to 12, they sometimes travel in larger crowds upwards of 25. Groups can be quite fluid in nature and may effortlessly merge and break apart as individuals feed and play. Whereas most porpoises tend to be more shy and secretive, Dall’s porpoises are incredibly inquisitive creatures. They enjoy being in company with one another, and oftentimes socialize with other species like Pacific white-sided dolphins and short-finned pilot whales.
While human interaction is generally unappealing to Dall’s porpoises, they are renown for riding in the wake of fast-paced boats. Our guests have been lucky to be greeted by their zesty energy while riding the water taxi during our kayaking tours. It’s a sight to see — and one that may only last a short moment before they zip along on their next pursuit!